A Massive Bronze Door Pays Tribute to Poetry 

—by Ken Bresler

Vestibule in the McKim Building at the Central Library in Copley Square

Vestibule in the McKim Building at the Central Library in Copley Square

A massive bronze door at the Boston Public Library by the American master Daniel Chester French pays tribute to poetry. What a great combination: the BPL, French (the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and John Harvard in Cambridge), and poetry.

French created six bronze doors for the library, each depicting a personification of an art or virtue. The second door from the left is Poetry. You’ll know because at the top of this tall door – ten feet, eight inches high – a medallion reads “Poetry.”

You can see the set of doors near the library’s entrance on Dartmouth Street, facing Copley Square. Enter the set of doors leading from the outside to the Vestibule, which is a relatively small and simple lobby. French’s doors are straight ahead.

Poetry wears a classical robe and a halo. She holds a lit lamp with a double nozzle. A small figure serves as the knob on the lid of the lamp. Smoke rises from the flames in curlicues. Three stars either emanate from the smoke or represent the night sky. Under the figure of Poetry, a legend (inscription) appears in all capital letters. You may have to kneel to read it: “True poetry is like the loadstone which both attracts the needle and supplies it with magnetic power.” The source of this legend, and whether the sculptor selected it, is unknown.

Loadstone, also spelled “lodestone,” is a naturally magnetized form of the mineral magnetite. The legend about poetry is surprisingly unpoetic. But it is prescient, too. You can consider it an anticipation of magnetic poetry that was prevalent in the last decades of the twentieth century: words on magnets that people arranged on refrigerators and file cabinets to compose poetry.

Of the five other legends, one is derived from poetry. The legend under Music, which is to the left of Poetry, is an excerpt from “Arcades,” a masque (a performance piece) by the poet John Milton:

Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie,

To lull the daughters of Necessity,

And keep unsteady Nature to her law.

From left to right, the doors portray Music, Poetry, Knowledge, Wisdom, Truth, and Romance.

Ken Bresler is the author of Poetry Made Visible: Boston Sites for Poetry Lovers, Art Lovers & Lovers. A variation of this article appears in his book.

Photo sourced from the Boston Public Library website.