William T. Young Library

 HOURS for May 17, 2021:  8:00am - 10:00pm


by Jane Gentry Vance, Kentucky Poet Laureate, 2007-2008

His mother Margaret played piano at my childhood church;
my grandfather was the preacher. Neighbors on Aurora
Avenue, children on the street, my mother, too, thought
the brilliant boy was odd, who loved reading more
than playing twilight games among the modest houses, who
grew up to give his state, his city, and his school great gifts.

In May the students gather here, following after him,
in the library he helped set upon this hill, on the rim
of a grassy bowl of earth. Over open books, test takers
bend their heads, hold them as if in pain, the pages
spread before them on shiny cherry tables, or,
glassy-eyed, they peer into the screens of laptops,
as if they might find there answers to earn “A’s”
as their benefactor did, and lead them also
to a life of prosperous work and service.

High porches, many-windowed walls, arches, balconies
all around, topped with a cupola, a brilliant zenith
crowning, on sunny days, half the rings Dante scaled
in Paradise, reaching at last the Empyrean through
which light streams even to ground level
with its floor of limestone still engraved
with fossils eons-old. Archway after archway opens
up new vistas, just as books on moving shelves
open paths for students who, daydreaming,
gaze off into the moat of air that flows
around the center core, top to bottom. Round
the wall of the topmost rung hang geometries
of quilts, the North Star giving guidance, the
crazy quilts like night puzzles in our lives,
the ribbon quilts like random books on shelves,
the old literacy of needle and thread, pulled by
unknown women’s hands, the alchemy of making
something out of nothing, cutting patterns out
of used up clothes, throw-away scraps, stitching
warmth for sleeping bodies, protection when
our minds dive deep into dark water.

And near the entrance hangs the tapestry William Young
commissioned to decorate this house of books,
woven from finest wool of Swedish sheep
by a weaver favoring the ancient ways. Her act
of alchemy “defers the upward glance”
(so said the master architect McKinnell),
keeps our eyes on woolen earth a moment before
turning upward to the glassy heaven now raining
light upon us. The fabric’s weft and warp,
at play among the plyes and tensions, charmed
its five weavers with its seven hundred colors, dyed
and twisted by the master weaver Hernmarck.
Close up, the tapestry is nothing but the Many
strands, but forty paces back it becomes the One:
the bluegrass pasture, horses far beyond the pond,
the generous man himself in his woolen sweater
yellow as the sun, his elbow on a fencepost.  
Galloping toward him, his horse, Storm Cat,
shimmering river of muscle, though wool emits
no shine. And yet this horse, like books, libraries
filled with books, catches light and throws
it back to us in lightning bolts along his flank
so real we know what we are seeing: a horse
in a library holding, bowl-like, all earth’s energies,
creative and destructive, burning with life,
this unruly horse, lunging toward the man.
Those who here enter the great mind
of written words (Young, ourselves, our children,
and our children’s children, if we are lucky
and persist) may yet  bring Kentucky and the world
to closer likeness of this tapestry’s bright, unlikely
dream spun out of lightless wool.

© 2008 Jane Gentry Vance. All Rights Reserved