The address is 150 Deasngate, Manchester, fashioned in late Victorian neo-Gothic style by Basil Champneys. It sits north of Quay and Peter Streets, east of River Irwell, and refuses to be ignored. The stone facade has acquired a bronze depth and its donned with the excessive ornamentation of memory and money (Enriqueta Augustina Rylands devoted the building to her late husband, John, but I know nothing more of their relationship or the quality thereof).
As impressive as it stands, I was not prepared for its heavy, dark and rich interior, and the intimidating closeness of this large space. As a graduate student living on bread and Boddingtons, exploring local archives and repositories of centuries lost and justifiably so, I stopped breathing when I stood in Rylands.
So special and so rare its contents, you were only permitted empty-handed admittance. Pencils and cards dotted tables; chairs were perfectly arranged by the patrons out of respect; reading areas were shared as scholars joined in a high religious service.
This is life, I realized; it’s all here. I don’t need anything more; and time no longer matters.
Book of Life
This is a room in which all of life fits,
soaring arches of stone unearthed and shaped,
draped in heavy, old wood, dark with age
from the Garden of Eden but untouched,
with all of everything bound and shelved,
rows and rows in some divine order
not worth arguing over, only to enjoy,
spaces for reading, seats at tables,
paper but only pencils for taking notes,
shafts of light crisscross and dust dances
in the show of rhythmed, unhurried air,
in perfect quiet only small sounds heard,
a turning page with tender respect,
signs of satisfaction or stifled laughs,
but in the shadowy recess of the isle,
before a skewed chair left untidy
rests an open tome, heavy and solemn,
readerless with tear-stained pages,