“Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge” from “The Bridge” by Hart Crane

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty--

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,--

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
                                                           1927, 1930

2 thoughts on ““Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge” from “The Bridge” by Hart Crane

  1. I always found Crane’s poetry about the cityscape and its contents very grand. Unlike some poets I would have never guessed he would take his own life at such a young age, but then again not everyone new he was gay and I think he was struggling identity. Aside from his financial worries, I think his demise was his battle with his sexuality – as only months before his death he decided to start a heterosexual relationship. I guess the scent of a woman made him jump.

  2. An autobiographical framework is one way to approach the poem, and it does make for a richer read. For instance, the poem is a meditation on the transition the American landscape had undergone between the 18th and 19th centuries; or rather had gone through coming into the modern era. As such its muse becomes neither the modern era, nor that era before, but the very transition between the two. Certainly, in terms of topics, Crane picked a very hard to pin down one. The question the poem asks over and over is when and how did the “old America” become the “modern America”. Similar types of questions might be: when does dawn become dusk, black become white, the sea become land – and so on. Crane’s attempt to define the flux itself could be understood as his own coming to grips with his sexuality in an age when homosexuality wasn’t acknowledged in the same way it is today. Ultimately though, for me at least, there is only so much you can say about this. Crane’s subject of the “flux” on the other hand, embodied by the poem’s most visible image, the Brooklyn Bridge, is far more compelling. Perhaps, though, before I jump ahead of myself, I should post the second part of the poem…

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