Poetry Day 21 – Faulkner, Tolkien, and Longfellow live in Columbia?

Columbia, Maryland is a special place, a unique place. It was called “The Next America, and an article in Smithsonian.com written by Jimmy Stamp in 2014 captures it this way:

In Rouse’s view, we’re at our best in smaller communities where there is a sense of responsibility to one’s city and to one’s neighbor. He imagined a beautiful, self-sustaining American City–a new America, really–that fostered economic, racial, and cultural harmony. The name of this new city on a hill: Columbia.

Among other things, Rouse cared about what things were called around town.  A fascinating book called Oh, you must live in Columbia by Missy Burke, Robin Emrich and Barbara Kellner (can be purchased through the Columbia Archives) notes that Rouse oversaw the naming of streets, villages and even the apartment complexes.  Upon seeing some of the proposals, he was quoted as saying, “This is dull, unimaginative and inappropriate. […] it may be boring to have to pay attention to this one [detail] but NAMES ARE IMPORTANT” (page 5).

Oh you must live in Columbia – my copy sits on my coffee table and I can’t stop leafing through it


Thank you Mr. Rouse!

So we got lucky.  Around Columbia, we find many neighborhoods, villages, and streets named after works of art and literature.

The village of Swansfield has street names that draw from paintings of James Abbott Whistler.” Many of the street names in Hobbit’s Glen – surprise! surprise! – are references to J.R.R. Tolkien.  On page 31-34 of Oh you must live in Columbia, we see names like “Barrow Downs,” “Green Dragon Court,” and “Wood Elves Way” – all taken from Tolkien.

One of my favorites is the neighborhood of Longfellow in Harpers Choice. And of course these street names are taken from Henry Wadworth Longfellow’s poetry.

Endymion Lane from “Endymion”

“On such a tranquil night as this,

She woke Endymion with a kiss,

When, sleeping in the grove,

He dreamed not of her love.”

Harvest Moon Lane from “Autumn”

“Thy shield is the red harvest moon,


So long beneath the heaven’s

o’erhanging eaves.”

How wonderful it must be to live on a street with such beautiful words associated with it.  You can get from Eliot’s Oak Road to Hesperus Drive to Iron Pen Place to Mad River Lane – and travel among several of Longfellow’s poems.  Or from Hesperus Drive you can find yourself on Mystic Court or Paul Revere Ride or Phantom Court or Summer Day Lane. The possibilities are endless.

map of Longfellow neighborhood
map of Longfellow neighborhood

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Rouse – it IS important what we call things.

Satan Wood Drive sign at the Columbia Archives

But such a beautiful story can’t be without its endearing bloopers, among them the story of Satan Wood Drive.  It was rumored to be a misspelling of “Satinwood Drive,” which comes from Amy Lowell’s poem, “A Pantomime in One Act.”  For years, the street was called Satan Wood Drive until 2000 when the new sign went up. The old sign now lives at the Columbia Archives.

James Rouse once said that humans “will rise to the big, dramatically good plan – they will yawn at the timid, the cautious, the unconvincing.”  The street names in The Next America inspire no yawns. They’re not timid. Perhaps there’s magic in the lyrical labels that mark our streets. (page 7 of Oh you must live in Columbia)

Most likely if you’re a resident of Columbia you will be familiar with these stories about street names. I highly recommend this interesting book Oh you must live in Columbia, and learn about the beautiful poetry that surrounds our town.


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