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Library Way -- East 41st Street

Ask NYPL gets a lot of questions about the sidewalk on Library Way. If you haven't seen it before, on your next trip to the main building on Fifth Avenue, be sure to approach from the east and walk along 41st Street. You'll have a perfect view of the building gleaming in the morning sun, and you can stop to read some inspirational quotes about reading, writing, and literature along the way.

Below are the quotes along with where to find them in the library catalog, or Project Gutenberg.

You can also read more about the plaques themselves in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and the New York Times.

Library Walk: A celebration of the world’s great literature, brought to you by the Grand Central Partnership and the New York Public Library. Sculptor: Gregg LeFevre. 1998.

The knowledge of different literatures frees one from the tyranny of a few.

José Martí (1853-1895)
“On Oscar Wilde”

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.

William Styron (1925-2006)
Writers at Work

Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.

Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997)
Too Too Loud a Solitude

All things are words of some strange tongue, in thrall
To Someone, Something, who both day and night
Proceeds in endless gibberish to write
The history of the world. In that dark scrawl

Rome is set down, and Carthage, I, you, all,
And this my being which escapes me quite,
My anguished life that's cryptic, recondite,
And garbled in the tongues of Babel's fall.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
“Compass” (translated by Richard Wilbur)

Truth exists. Only falsehood has to be invented.

George Braque (1882-1963)
Le Jour et La Nuit

Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (A.D. 121-180)

Those of you, lost and yearning to be free,
who hear these words, take heart from me.
I was once in as many drafts as you.
But briefly, essentially, here I am...
Who touches this poem touches a woman.

Julia Alvarez (1950- )

Writing your name can lead to writing sentences. And the next thing you'll be doing is writing paragraphs, and then books. And then you'll be in as much trouble as I am!

Jerome Lawrence (1915-2004) and Robert E. Lee (1918-1994)
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

Remarks are not literature.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
“Letter to Colonel Charles Yancey”

The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong winds.

Kate Chopin (1851-1904)
The Awakening

For all books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction—it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time.

John Ruskin (1819-1900)
Sesame and Lilies

...the reading of good books is like a conversation with the best men of past centuries—

René Descartes (1596-1650)
Discourse on the Method

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
From “When You are Old

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I want everybody to be smart. As smart as they can be. A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.

Garson Kanin (1912-1999)
Born Yesterday

People work much in order to secure the future; I gave my mind much work and trouble, trying to secure the past.

Isak Dinesen (1885-1962)
Shadows on the Grass

In the reading room in the New York Public Library
All sorts of souls were bent over silence reading the past,
Or the present, or maybe it was the future, patrons
Devoted to silence and the flowering of the imagination...

Richard Eberhart (1904-2005)
Reading Room: The New York Public Library

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Old Newsman Writes
Esquire, December 1934

There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart-strings freedom sings
All day everyday.

There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
Words Like Freedom

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Of Studies

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
The Leaning Tower

There was something about the vibrating empty rooms first thing in the morning — light falling through the great tall windows, the sun burning the smooth tops of the golden tables as if they had been freshly painted — that me restless with the need to grab up every book, press into every single mind right there on the open shelves.

Alfred Kazin (1915-1998)
New York Jew

...At the end of an hour we saw a far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a vast gray fortress, with towers and turrets, the first I had ever seen out of a picture.

"Bridgeport?" said I, pointing.

"Camelot," said he.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
The Day is Done

Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light.

Tom Stoppard (1937- )
Night and Day

Someone is reading in a deepening room
Where something happens, something that will come

To happen again, happening as many times
As she is reading in as many rooms.

What happens outside that calm like water braiding
Over green stone? The ones of little reading

Or who never read for love, are many places,
They are in the house of power, and many houses...

Robert Pinsky (1940- )
Library Scene

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I chose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that's all.”

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There

The rose fades
and is renewed again
by its seed, naturally
but where

save in the poem
shall it go
to suffer no diminution
of its splendor.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)
The Speed of Darkness

Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
The Plague

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
In My Craft or Sullen Art

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

Willa Cather (1873-1947)
O Pioneers!

the mind is an enchanting thing

is an enchanted thing
like the glaze on a

subdivided by sun
till the nettings are legion.

Marianne Moore (1889-1972)
“The Mind is an Enchanting Thing”

Now, on my heart's page
there is no grid to guide my hand,
no character to trace,
only the moisture,
the ink blue dew
that has dripped from
the leaves.
To spread it I
can't use a pen,
I can't use a writing brush,
can only use my life's
gentlest breath
to make a single line of
marks worth puzzling over.

Gu Cheng (1956-1993)
“Forever Parted: Graveyard”

I don't know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.

E.B. White (1899-1985)
Letter to James Thurber

A poem doesn't do everything for you.
You are supposed to go on with your thinking.
You are supposed to enrich
the other person's poem with your extensions,
your uniquely personal understandings,
thus making the poem serve you.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
Song of Winnie


Vladimer: What do they say?
Estragon: They talk about their lives.
Vladimer: To have lived is not enough for them.
Estragon: They have to talk about it.
Vladimer: To be dead is not enough for them.
Estragon: It is not sufficient.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
Waiting for Godot

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and i keep on remembering

Lucille Clifton (1936- )
why some people be mad at me sometimes

Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. 

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

When there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good persons is but knowledge in the making.

John Milton (1608-1674)

I love the old melodious lays
Which softly melt the ages through,
The songs of Spenser's golden days,
Arcadian Sidney's silver phrase,
Sprinkling on our noon of time with freshest morning dew.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Thanks for this post. I have

Thanks for this post. I have tried to find a complete online list of all the quotes on Library Way in the past with no success. Now we can see all the plaques and their transcriptions from anywhere. This is great!

Might be time they updated

Might be time they updated your logo on the banners?

a special New York moment

My family discovered the plaques by chance, on a walk between the Morgan Library and a Bryant Park lunch. We stopped traffic--or, rather, traffic had to stop for us, as we read each inscription. What a wonderful and lasting contribution! Thank you.

live wallpaper

I love library walk. I took photos of all the quotes and am using it as my live wallpaper. I think you should make one either for free or to sell as fund raiser. People would love it. I could send you my photos if you like. No charge.

live wallpaper

Your offer of free of charge photos is old, but we hope it is still good. We took pictures of the first block but not the second.

About the picture of the quotes at the Library walk

Dear Lois Bernard, I love the library walk too. It's a pity that I have not enough time for taking the pictures for all the quotes. Would you pls. share the pictures with me too? Thanks you very much!

Dear Lois

Dear Lois If you are agreeable to sharing your photos i too would love to have them! Mary

Please send me your photos!

Please send me your photos! Thank you. C.

I'm one of the lucky ones

I work in a building on Library Way so I'm fortunate to take these quotes, one at a time or in bunches, as the spirit moves me. Thanks for putting them all here for me to share with my friends visiting Manhattan.

An Enchanting Walk

I came upon Library Walk by accident, and was enchanted by the literary quotes and the designs that suited each plaque. I tried to write down many of the quotes, but was on my way to an appointment. I am very pleased to find this site.

Treasures on the Ground

What a thrill we found, and a new habit: Walk the library walk. I have a new favorite every time I read the plaques, and a renewed desire to return. Thank you.

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