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To Brooklyn Bridge -- Hart Crane

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1101) To Brooklyn Bridge
 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.
-- Hart Crane
The first thing that always strikes me about this poem is the way it
bristles with movement - reading it I am constantly aware of a dim
sensation of either rising into a sky brilliant with phrases or falling
into a helpless gravity (it's seldom that I step into a lift now without
the line "elevators drop us from our day" popping into my head); and I'm
enthralled by the way even something as fundamentally stationary as a
bridge becomes a moving object: a step, a curve, a trajectory.

The other fascinating thing about it of course, is the delicate balance
Crane manages to strike between the divine and the industrial - the
poem is filled with mundane, metallic images - girders, derricks, iron,
acetylene - but the poem somehow lifts them all into a different plane, so
that Quixote like, we see the bridge and the derricks not simply for what
they are but rather as Titans, as Gods mighty and merciless.


P.S. Searching through the Minstrel Archives I find (to my horror!)
that none of Hart Crane's poems have ever been run on Minstrels. I'm
including therefore a brief biography of the man:

 Born in 1899 in Garrettsville, Ohio, Harold Hart Crane was a highly anxious
 and volatile child. He began writing verse in his early teenage years, and
 though he never attended college, read regularly on his own, digesting the
 works of the Elizabethan dramatists and poets -- Shakespeare, Marlowe, and
 Donne -- and the nineteenth-century French poets -- Vildrac, Laforgue, and

 His father, a candy manufacturer, attempted to dissuade him from a career
 in poetry, but Crane was determined to follow his passion to write. Living
 in New York City, he associated with many important figures in literature
 of the time, including Allen Tate, Katherine Anne Porter, E. E. Cummings,
 and Jean Toomer, but his heavy drinking and chronic instability frustrated
 any attempts at lasting friendship.

 An admirer of T. S. Eliot, Crane combined the influences of European
 literature and traditional versification with a particularly American
 sensibility derived from Walt Whitman. His major work, the book-length
 poem, The Bridge, expresses in ecstatic terms a vision of the historical
 and spiritual significance of America. Like Eliot, Crane used the landscape
 of the modern, industrialized city to create a powerful new symbolic
 literature. Hart Crane committed suicide in 1932, at the age of thirty-
 three, by jumping from the deck of a steamship sailing back to New York
 from Mexico.

   -- [broken link]

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