"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Poetry in Limestone & Steel

"East Side, West Side,
all around the town . . .
We tripped the light fantastic
on the sidewalks of New York . . . "

Hard to believe that it has been over a month since our holiday visit to New York City, including such highlights as Lessons and Carols at St. Thomas Church, Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the Imax on 34th Street, and Christmas Dinner at the Algonquin. I think the trick to enjoying some of the classic attractions might be to come earlier in the season -- perhaps right after Thanksgiving; or later in the seaon -- like shortly after New Year's. During our stay (22 - 26 December), the crowds were just too intense to get a good look at the department store window displays or the skaters at Rockefeller Center. I'm usually one to relish an urban scene, but the human density was over my limit.

I was lucky to get a more user - friendly, twenty - four hour reprise in late January. While it was a little too late in the season for all the highlights and festivities, there were still lots of ice - skaters, twinkle lights, wreaths, and even trees (not all were tossed out on the Twelfth Day of Christmas!) to lift the spirits There was no shortage of action but still room to breathe. The weather was also more seasonable this time, with remnants of last week's snow strewn about, rather than the pouring rains and oddly balmy near - 70 degree temps of Christmas week.

You can see a bit of snow here in Madison Square Park, where I stopped by to admire the World War I Memorial and the Flatiron Building . . .

. . . of which Mark Twain once wrote: "I was thinking of securing this as a winter residence, but had to give up the idea, because the rent was higher than the house."

Twain also referred to the Flatiron Building as a way of understanding British humor: " 'The English don't deserve their reputation,' insisted Mr. Clemens. 'They are as humorous a nation as any in the world. Only humor, to be comprehensible to anybody, must be built upon a foundation with which he is familiar. If he can't see the foundation the superstructure is to him merely a freak - like the Flatiron building without any visible means of support - something that ought to be arrested.' "
from The New York Times, November 26, 1905

Contemporary writer April Lindner (YA novelist) calls the Flatiron "poetry in limestone." It is easy to see the poetics of the Flatiron Building as well as the Empire State and the Chrysler. Coincidentally, here are a couple of stirring passages describing both of these landmarks in terms of their poetic beauty:

The Empire State Building at Christmas
"I was pleasantly surprised to find the Empire Building so poetical. . . . passionate skill, arduous and fearless idealism. The tallest building is a victory of imagination. . . .

"What did I 'see and hear' from the Empire Tower? As I stood there 'twixt earth and sky, I saw a a romantic structure wrought by human brains and hands that is to the burning eye of the sun a rival luminary. I saw it stand erect and serene in the midst of storm and the tumult of elemental commotion. I heard the hammer of Thor ring when the shaft began to rise upward. I saw the unconquerable steel, the flash of testing flames, the sword-like rivets. I heard the steam drills in pandemonium. I saw countless skilled workers welding together that mighty symmetry. I looked upon the marvel of frail, yet indomitable hands that lifted the tower to its dominating height.

"Let cynics and supersensitive souls say what they will about American materialism and machine civilization. Beneath the surface are poetry, mysticism and inspiration that the Empire Building somehow symbolizes. In that giant shaft I see a groping toward beauty and spiritual vision. I am one of those who see and yet believe."
Helen Keller, January 1932

Grand Central Station & The Chrysler Building
"New York's most glorious skyscraper, its art deco eagles poised for flight, is a timeless work of Jazz Age poetry in steel. . . . Architects, who have both intuition and training on their side, have some very good reasons for loving the Chrysler Building. The rest of us love it beyond reason, for its streamlined majesty and its inherent sense of optimism and promise for the future, but mostly for its shimmery, welcoming beauty — a beauty that speaks of humor and elegance in equal measure . . . How can a mere building make so many people so happy . . . You could also look at [the] erection of that spire in November 1929, less than a month after the stock market took its horrifying plummet, as a brashly hopeful gesture.

"Looking at the Chrysler Building now, though, it’s hard to argue against its stylish ebullience, or its special brand of sophisticated cheerfulness. . . . I love looking up at the Chrysler Building from somewhere close to its base — to see the way its glistening silver decorations, including ornaments shaped like radiator caps, seemingly appear out of nowhere against the building’s simple white expanse. And beyond those radiator caps, beyond the ready-for-flight eagles, the crown is the most glorious decoration of all. Against the newly altered New York skyline, the glow of that crown seems more hopeful than ever. Eternally poised for takeoff, the Chrysler Building is always pointed toward the future. It’s a building that never looks back."
Stephanie Zacharek, February 2002

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, February 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ "Sunrise, Sunset"
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

And Enjoy More NYC Photos

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