Monday, May 04, 2009

The Providence Athenaeum and archy

Providence is an old city, as cities go in the United States. Benefit Street, one of the prettiest streets you'll see in this part of the world, has, among its Colonial beauties, this lovely membership library. The library was founded in 1753, by the citizens of Providence, and it was then named the Providence Library Company. The present building was designed by a Philadelpia architect, William Strickland, and opened in 1838. I can vouch for its marvels. As soon as you walk in, something inside says to you, "Now, THIS is a library."

I think it's a wonderful place, and am very glad we decided to join. There are glorious old books, rareties that can't leave the building, and others, still lovely and in good bindings, that can. But for me, the profusion of 1920s and 30s books are the most enticing thing. And downstairs, in the Reading Room (you can sit there all day in an old chair, surrounded by the lovely mustiness of old books, looking across at an "Egyptian" library table, reading, or sitting, or thinking), I found books, plays, poetry and more from my favorite time frame.

Don Marquis is down there. That is, his books are. I have a few volumes of his collected poems, but many are out of print, and difficult to find. The Old Soak is one of the books I borrowed. Possibly, I should read it with a pitcher of martinis at hand, and so, probably won't start it until after 5. But I have just finished the book I mention below.

I also discovered Archy Does His Part. The earliest of these poems and stories was published in 1916, and the latest in 1934. The book itself (a first edition) was published in 1935. This is the title of the last poem in the book:

"what the ants are saying". Here are some excerpts: wont be long now it wont be long
man is making deserts of the earth...

...america was once a paradise
of timberland and stream
but it is dying because of the greed
and money lust of a thousand little kings... talk of money and industry
of hard times and recoveries
of finance and economics
but the ants wait and the scorpions wait...
drought and erosion and desert
because man cannot learn

...dear boss i relay this information
without any fear that humanity
will take warning and reform


Anonymous said...

I've been a huge huge fan of archy et al for many years, & never realized that the books were right outside my office at the Providence Athenaeum - won't you join us for our Friday 5/29 Salon, "Poetry Aloud"? It's an evening of people reading aloud from their favorite poems, or finding one on our shelves & reading it aloud with others. I'd love to hear archy's words! Salon features wine & hors d'oeuvres, too. It's open to Athenaeum members and their guests, so I'd like to invite fans of this blog as my guests! -Christina Bevilacqua, Director of Member Services, Programs, and Development, Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street, here's our website: Thanks for the kind recommendation of the library!

Eileen said...

Thank you, Christina! I hope that my husband and I can be there (we're expecting out of town guests, but perhaps they'd like to attend as well).