Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Library Walk: Willa Cather, Willa Cather, Willa Cather

photo © Mark Butkus 2015
Willa Cather is born this day in 1873.

Gregg LeFevre's playful, repetitive take on a famous passage in Willa Cather's O Pioneers! is immortalized on Library Way across from the New York Public Library.

The actual quote reads:

“And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said Carl softly. "Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years."”

Written while Willa Cather was living in New York City in 1913, O Pioneers! is the first of her Great Plains Trilogy, followed by The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Ántonia (1918). The title comes from the poem by Walt Whitman, Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Another connection that Willa Cather has to poetry is that her first published work in 1903 was not a novel but a collection of poetry entitled, April Twilights. Met with mixed reviews upon its publication she did find a fan in Mark Twain who praised her poem, The Palatine.

But back to the plaque. Do you agree with Cather's assertion that there are only two or three human stories?

In 1996, the New York Public Library, the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker Magazine convened a panel of esteemed lovers of the written word and came up with a collection of quotations from the never-ending oeuvre of literature.

These quotes were cast in bronze by New York sculptor Gregg LeFevre and then laid out as sidewalk plaques on E 41st Street in 1998. In 2003, the stretch of E 41st Street from the New York Public Library entrance on Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue was renamed Library Way.

Whether it be a birthday, anniversary or publication date of a seminal work, the Bar None Group will revisit these 40+ quotations from time to time — quotations that inspire one to write, read, explore and embrace literature. We last visited Richard Eberhart.

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