Remembering Princeton: IV University Town in the 1940's (a poem)
What I remember most about Princeton
as a young boy is not the snobbery of
class consciousness nor even the island
reprieve of my father's bookshop where
German Jewish intellectuals, shunned by
other Princetonians, were most welcome
to give lectures at Parnassus on Monday
evenings--people like Erich Kahler and
Herman Broch as well as questing young poets
giving readings-- William S. Merwin and John Berryman.
No, what I remember most are not the taunting
school bullies and tough "townies," but the
blessed maple and oak woods above Lake Carnegie
where February buds emerged from grey ice and
snow still lingering on the damp ground from
fierce blizzards that almost blotted out the
town and Murray Dodge Theatre where my
mother, directed by Mario Silletti, acted in
"The Cenci," or "The Importance of Being
Earnest," or even Chancellor Green's circular
Reference Room, echoing my father's polite
laughter at some professor's or student's joke.
No, what I rember most is skating on Lake Carnegie
as free as Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond
and watching the dark woods race by or seeing
flickering flames of a shoreline fire warming
skaters who had had enough of pinched toes
and wobbly ankles and slips and falls on ice. But
of all the customers in Parnassus, Charles Bell
sensed most my need of woodsy relief and took
me on hikes to Devil's Cave and glacial ridges,
putting Princeton in a Pleistocene perspective.
There was also an ornithologist by the name of
Charles Rogers, known as the Bird Man of Guyot
Hall, who set up an exhibit at the American Museum
of Natural History called "The Birds of Shakespeare"
with well over one hundred-fifty species mentioned in
all his plays--well, Charlie Rogers took me and others
up to Hawk Ridge in the Kittatinnies to watch the
hawks ride the thermals above bright orange and red
forests on frosty October days--that's what I
recall the most of my Princeton boyhood days.
Both my brother and I had a difficult time adjusting to Princeton and living in the friendly little hamlet of Wernersville, Pennsylvania for the first part of our lives.