In the Library by Charles Simic - On the magic of books

First the poem, and them some of my thoughts. 

In the Library
Charles Simic

There’s a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

Ruminating about In the Library 

Angels. While they used to ubiquitous, just like flies are now. And nowadays angels and gods only live "huddled in dark unopened books." Dark, I guess because they are not opened. They hold the secrets. Not just any secret, great secrets.  Most people have to go out of their way, open these books, to discover these angels.  I wonder if words are the angels. Whoever they are, Miss Jones -- the librarian I assume -- can hear them. True lovers, the caretakers, the librarians, tall in stature with bent heads because of their humility, can hear the whispering angels. 

The books are whispering. Do you hear them? I guess you have to be making rounds, be tall, and keep your head tipped to hear them. I guess there is magic in books like there is in chanting.

Waheguru 30 minute Meditation - Shivpreet Singh

Analysis from the Carmellite Library

Once we have forgiven Charles Simic for his stereotyping of librarians we consider some of the better implications of his poem. We have all come across books that we gaze at with puzzled wonder. What kind of book is this? Who would have read this book? Why was it written? Who would take the time to write it? The very existence of the book in hand tells us that a whole range of real people worked carefully to prepare the text, set the type, produce the item, distribute and promote it. A librarian with sensitivities will occasionally have pangs of guilt or second thoughts about culling such books. Their rarity stops us in our tracks, the purpose of their very existence is not to be denied. “A Dictionary of Angels” would stay where it was parked because angelology is a genuine if under-attended subject of theology. Books on angels have a permanent shelf life in this Library. To have records of named angels is essential in getting to know the minds of other generations, whatever our own definition of an angel. Scripture and Talmud would be missing something were angels to be deleted. Students of angels would probably take exception to the second verse of the poem, where Simic wishes to relegate angels to the past: this is not something that makes sense if they are part of the heavenly realm. He also indulges in comic or far-fetched descriptions of angels that bear really no resemblance to their appearances in Scripture and elsewhere in Judaic, Christian and Muslim tradition.  More riskily, in fact it’s heretical methinks, the poet seems to imply that angels only exist today in books. The rabbis would have had something to say about this strange idea, not to mention the shepherds watching over their flocks by night. As it is, we should leave encounters with angels to those who have something to say. The poem’s purpose, however, is not to deny angels, rather to get us to listen to the ‘whispering’ in the books, and even if we cannot hear anything, to pay attention to those who can hear the ‘whispering’. The materiality of the book itself may fall apart yet there are presences everywhere. Their own existence in time is telling us of other existences and other experiences than our own. We must cull with a discerning eye, but also with extra senses of the kind possessed by Miss Jones.   

On Charles Simic

Charles was born on 1938 in Belgrade Yugolasvia but migrated to the United States when he was around fifteen years old and earned his Bachelor’s degree from New York University. He has published 60 books of poems and won a number of awards such as the Pulitzer Prize in 1990, the International Griffin Poetry Prize for Selected Poems in 2005 and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2008 (source here). He was also appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2007, an award which he cherished greatly because according to Simic: “I am especially touched and honored to be selected because I am an immigrant boy who didn’t speak English until I was 15” (source here). I thought that was quite inspiring. Here is the poem that caught me, and I hope it will do the same to you. I am glad that our new theme has introduced me to this wonderful poet.