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Poetry Friday: Here’s to The Great White Way

Broadway - Bright lights, big city.

Spider-Man is just one of the many offerings that’s still here on Broadway.

There’s something magical about Broadway. The first time you stand in Times Square your jaw drops. Talk about not being in Kansas anymore. Bright lights, big New York City, a place for dreamers and schemers.

On the surface, Broadway is a fun place, a happy place, street after street of lit theater after lit theater, full of life and people, an entertainment paradise.

Behind the scenes the gears are turning. High hopes are sometimes realized and sometimes dashed. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

Here are are a few selection of poems about the wonderment of Broadway. 

This first poem was written by Carl Sandburg. Primarily known for his Chicago poems and his biography of Abraham Lincoln, I have no idea what spurred him to write a poem about Broadway, but I hear him.


I shall never forget you, Broadway
Your golden and calling lights.
I’ll remember you long,
Tall-walled river of rush and play.

Hearts that know you hate you
And lips that have given you laughter
Have gone to their ashes of life and its roses,
Cursing the dreams that were lost
In the dust of your harsh and trampled stones.

This poem, also titled “Broadway,” was written by American lyric poet Sara Teasdale, who won the 1918 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the first woman to do so. Originally from Missouri, she married and moved to New York City, where she lived until her death by her own hand in 1933.


This is the quiet hour; the theaters
Have gathered in their crowds, and steadily
The million lights blaze on for few to see,
Robbing the sky of stars that should be hers.
A woman waits with bag and shabby furs,
A somber man drifts by, and only we
Pass up the street unwearied, warm and free,
For over us the olden magic stirs.

Beneath the liquid splendor of the lights
We live a little ere the charm is spent;
This night is ours, of all the golden nights,
The pavement an enchanted palace floor,
And Youth the player on the viol, who sent
A strain of music through an open door.

This next poem, “On Broadway,” was written by Claude McKay, who died in 1948. He was a Jamaican American poet and seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

On Broadway

About me young careless feet
Linger along the garish street;
Above, a hundred shouting signs
Shed down their bright fantastic glow
Upon the merry crowd and lines
Of moving carriages below.
Oh wonderful is Broadway — only
My heart, my heart is lonely.

Desire naked, linked with Passion,
Goes trutting by in brazen fashion;
From playhouse, cabaret and inn
The rainbow lights of Broadway blaze
All gay without, all glad within;
As in a dream I stand and gaze
At Broadway, shining Broadway — only
My heart, my heart is lonely.

This final work quietly screams Broadway. Technically it’s a song, but I think it’s pure poetic brilliance. It’s called “I’m Still Here,” and was written by Stephen Sondheim for his Broadway show Follies. It’s sung by the character Carlotta, a former actress who has been there, done that, and lived to tell about it.

It’s also reflective of Broadway itself. There were good times for the Great White Way. A time when shows were waiting in the wings to play on Broadway because there weren’t enough theaters for them. Then there were bad times, when theaters sat empty and neglected and the crowds stayed away in droves. But as the song goes, Broadway survived it all and it’s still here. And some would say it’s better than ever.

“I’m Still Here” is also part history lesson, and mentions a number of people and events. On this Sondheim website, Jane Abernathy offers explanations.

This song has been sung by so many wonderful performers, but my favorite is by the original Carlotta, Yvonne De Carlo. You may know her as Lily Munster from the TV show The Munsters. In her early days, Yvonne was a glamorous screen siren. She then developed into a character actress, and eventually wound up on the small screen in The Munsters.

The following is a clip of Yvonne De Carlo from the David Frost show. A true pro, she messes up a line but then quickly covers and goes back without missing a beat.

I’m Still Here

Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all
And, my dear, I’m still here
Plush velvet sometimes
Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I’m here

I’ve stuffed the dailies in my shoes
Strummed ukuleles, sung the blues
Seen all my dreams disappear but I’m here.
I’ve slept in shanties, guest of the W.P.A., but I’m here
Danced in my scanties
Three bucks a night was the pay, but I’m here

I’ve stood on bread lines with the best
Watched while the headlines did the rest
In the depression was I depressed?
Nowhere near, I met a big financier and I’m here

I’ve been through Gandhi, Windsor and Wally’s affair, and I’m here
Amos ‘n’ Andy, Mah-jongg and platinum hair, and I’m here
I got through Abie’s, Irish Rose, Five Dionne babies, Major Bowes
Had heebie-jeebies for Beebe’s, Bathysphere
I got through Shirley Temple, and I’m here

I’ve gotten through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover
Gee, that was fun and a half
When you’ve been through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover
Anything else is a laugh

I’ve been through Reno, I’ve been through Beverly Hills, and I’m here.
Reefers and vino, rest cures, religion and pills, and I’m here
Been called a ‘Pinko’, commie tool, got through it stinko by my pool
I should’ve gone to an acting school, that seems clear
Still someone said, “She’s sincere,” so I’m here

Black sable one day, next day it goes into hock, but I’m here
Top billing Monday, Tuesday, you’re touring in stock, but I’m here
First you’re another sloe-eyed vamp
Then someone’s mother, then you’re camp
Then you career from career to career
I’m almost through my memoirs, and I’m here

I’ve gotten through, “Hey, lady, aren’t you whoozis?
Wow, what a looker you were”
Or better yet, “Sorry, I thought you were whoozis
Whatever happened to her?”

Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ’em all
And, my dear, I’m still here
Flush velvet sometimes
Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I’m here

I’ve run the gamut, A to Z
Three cheers and dammit, C’est la vie
I got through all of last year, and I’m here
Lord knows, at least I was there, and I’m here
Look who’s here, I’m still here

A limo in front of the Stephen Sondehim Theater, the Naked Cowboy, and happy crowds are day to day life on Broadway.

A limo in front of the Stephen Sondheim Theater, the Naked Cowboy, and happy crowds are just part of day-to-day life on Broadway.

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