‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane is a poem that meditates upon the Brooklyn bridge. The poet picturizes the bridge seen at different times of the day. The overview of the bridge seems as if it’s a magnanimous god-like figure after seeing which the poet became awe-struck. There is a devotional appeal in the poem that adores each detailing of the bridge. Though being a symbol of modernity, to the poet the bridge welcomes several romantic ideas. At times, he feels peaceful after seeing the bridge resting in its mechanical body from a distance.
Summary of To Brooklyn Bridge
‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane begins with the image of the seagulls flying over the bridge at dawn. Thereafter the poet goes on to refer to the modern images such as some page of figures filed away and the cinema screen. Moreover, the poet presents a picture of the silvery bridge at dawn. Then, again the poet shifts from the description of the bridge to an insane who jumps off the bridge. In the following stanzas, the poet associates spiritual elements with the bridge. Moreover, he thinks that the bridge connects earth to heaven. At last, there is a request to the bridge for coming down from its height and be one of them.
Structure of To Brooklyn Bridge
‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane consists of 11 stanzas each having four lines in it. The overall poem is in free verse. But, there are some instances, the poet uses both the regular rhymes and the slant rhymes. As an example, in the third stanza, “scene” rhymes with “screen”. And in the last stanza, “sod” rhymes with “God”. Apart from that, there are ten syllables in each line and the stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. Hence, the poem is in iambic pentameter with a few variations. The rising rhythm of the lines reflects an elevating mood that transposes the modern boundary and welcomes the surreal. The flow of the poem builds upon the internal rhythm of the lines. The use of repetitive consonant sounds and vowel sounds complement this free-flowing rhythm of the poem.
Literary Devices in To Brooklyn Bridge
‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane begins with a personification in the very first line. Here, the poet personifies the Brooklyn bridge as if it’s a human being. In “white rings of tumult”, the poet uses a metaphor. Thereafter, in “Liberty” the poet uses synecdoche for referring to a concrete material by using an abstract idea. In the second stanza, there is a simile in the line, “As apparitional as sails that cross”. The following stanza presents the metaphor of the “flashing scene” of a cinema to compare the sight of the bridge. Apart from that, the poet extensively uses enjambment for establishing a connection between the stanzas just like the Brooklyn bridge. Moreover, in the fourth stanza, the poet personifies the sun. The poet also uses alliteration in this poem. As an example, the line, “Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning” contains two alliterations.
It is worth noting the use of ellipsis in this poem. By using this device the poet associates a sense of continuity. The bridge was there even before the poet saw it. It will be there in the future too. Hence, the bridge acts as a symbol of eternity to the poet. At last, the poet using an apostrophe evokes the spirit of the bridge and requests the guardian spirit of the bridge to descend to the mortal level. In the last line, the poet uses a metaphor of “curveship” for comparing it to the bridge.
Analysis of 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—
‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane presents an image of the bridge at dawn. It’s not that the poet has seen the image of the bridge and the seagulls hovering over it, on a specific day. The bridge presents this image in many dawns. The poet says from the chill heart of the bridge a group of seagulls rises. As if the bridge has set them free. Their collective movement shakes the bridge. Thereafter, the seagulls rise and fly in a circular pattern. By seeing them, the poet thinks like architects they are building “white rings of tumult” in the sky. And, over the bridge, the poet can see the Statue of Liberty. The statue at a distance along with the birds flying in the sky collectively symbolize 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 …
‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane depicts how the scene mentioned in the first stanza soothes the poet as well as others. At dawn, the image of the bridge seems out-worldly to the poet. The bird flying over the bridge is compared to a page of figures that are filed away. In the last line, the poet personifies the elevators that drop office-goes after their work or day. They can see the bridge in the towering buildings. As they descend, the bridge goes out of sight. Somehow, the elevator mentioned here acts as an inhibitor. It brings men down to a worldly level and breaks the union established between people and the bridge.
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;
In the third stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, the poet refers to “some flashing scene” of cinemas and compares it with the scene of the bridge at dawn. The poet says that an artful cinema, dextrous in its cinematography, never discloses anything directly. Some can still sense the untold and understand its importance. Whereas, some try to revisit the scene to find the essence. Like that the bridge’s image is mysterious. It has manifold interpretations for different eyes. But, the out-worldly imagery is hard to decode. In this way, the poet invests the bridge with some mysterious abilities.
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!
In the fourth stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, the poet directly addresses the bridge and describes how it looks across the harbor. After seeing the metallic luster, the poet thinks as if the sun is yet to step on it. In the last two lines, the poet describes its length and how it symbolizes freedom in the poet’s eyes. Humans made the bridge but still, they don’t have any control over it. It’s free from the direct control of human beings. It can’t move yet unconquerable. The mighty bridge, like God, stands on its own holding the creation in its breast.
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.
Suddenly, in the fifth stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’, Hart Crane points at a bedlamite or an insane person speeding to the bridge’s parapet. From where the person has come, it’s unsure. The poet sees him standing there for a moment then in a flash it jumps off, from life to nonentity. Before contacting the water below, his voice sounds like a shrill note. His shirt ballooning and vanished in the bosom of the bay below. The scene makes everyone standing at the bridge speechless. Moreover, the bridge has seen such things before. Hence, he is also silent like others standing there.
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.
In this stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’, Hart Crane presents a contrast between the bridge and the city. In Wall Street, from the girder of the towering buildings, the sun leaks its rays into the streets. It seems that the height of the buildings makes it hard for the sun while casting its rays at dawn. When the poet standing in such a street watches above, the sky seems as if it’s inside the rip-tooth of the buildings. Moreover, the poet refers to the image of derricks and clouds. In the last line, the poet presents the bridge as a symbol of peace. Here, the poet says in contrast to the lifelessness of the towering buildings of a city, the bridge breathes the cold North Atlantic breeze. It appears like a monk eternally meditating upon the North Atlantic ocean.
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.
In the seventh stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, the poet welcomes the spiritual elements into this poem. The bridge’s future is obscure just like heaven in the Jewish religion. Such obscurity of its future is its guerdon. Humans know what will happen to them in the end. But, in the bridge’s case, nobody knows. Hence, the bridge is like a god. None can predict the bridge’s future. Moreover, the poet refers to the timeless quality of the bridge. At last, the poet seeks forgiveness from the spirit of the bridge.
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,
In this stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, the poet creates a religious mood. By invoking the sounds of the harp and presenting the image of the altar the poet glorifies the bridge. The poet wonders how mere toil can align the heavy strings of the bridge. He senses some divine grace on it that was responsible for its creation. Moreover, the poet refers to the “terrific threshold” of the bridge and compares it with the “prophet’s pledge” metaphorically. In these two phrases, the consonant sounds get repeated. Hence, there is consonance in each of the phrases. In the last line, the poet says that three things were responsible for the creation of the mighty bridge. These are, “the prophet’s pledge”, “Prayer of pariah”, and “the lover’s cry”. Therefore, the bridge stands for Christ himself. Like a divine spirit, it originated for redeeming mankind.
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.
In this stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, the poet eternalizes the bridge and illustrates its beauty at night. The poet can see the traffic lights that skin the bridge’s swift and “unfractioned” idiom. It refers to the fine road over the bridge on which the traffic lights get reflected. Moreover, the road also reflects starlight. From distance, it seems as if the stars’ reflection forms a beaded garland for the bridge. The image of the bridge at night is the microcosm of eternity. Hence, the poet refers to the sight as “condense eternity”. Lastly, the poet thinks as if the bridge lifts the night in its arms and glorifies it. In this way, the poet glorifies the bridge in this stanza.
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 …
In this stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, the speaker comes to light. He waited by the piers under the shadow of the bridge. Moreover, the poet says only in darkness or night the shadow of the bridge gets cleared. It’s a reference to the spiritual quality of the bridge. As the importance of light is best understood only in darkness, it’s importance can only be understood at night. There is a shift in the last two lines of this stanza. The poet refers to the passing of a year and the coming of winter.
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.
In the last stanza of ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, the poet uses a simile in the very first line. Here, a comparison is made between the restlessness of the bridge and the sleepless river under it. Thereafter, the poet introduces the image of the vaulting sea and refers to a dreaming sod of prairies. In the last two lines, the poet implores the spirit of the bridge to descend to the mortal level sometimes. In the last line, the poet additionally requests the bridge to fill the gap between religion and modern people. It also seems that the bridge might create another mythical example after Christ.
Historical Context of To Brooklyn Bridge
‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane is the “Proem” of his long poem “The Bridge”. The book was first published in 1930. It’s Hart Crane’s first and only long poem. However, in this short lyrical ode to the Brooklyn Bridge and New York City the poet introduces the urban landscape of the city and the scenic beauty of the bridge. Moreover, the poem was inspired by the “poetry landmark” of New York, the Brooklyn Bridge. Hart Crane lived for some time at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn. From there he had an excellent view of the bridge. It’s interesting to note here that Crane didn’t know one of the key builders of the bridge, Washington Roebling, had lived at the same address.
Like ‘To Brooklyn Bridge’ by Hart Crane, here is a list of a few poems that similarly depict the scenic beauty of or around a bridge.
- Brooklyn Heights by John Wain – Here, in this poem, John Wain depicts New York City and those who struggle to make a life for themselves there.
- The Rainbow Bridge by Paul C. Dahm – In this poem, the poet metaphorically refers to the metaphorical rainbow bridge crossing which one can go into heaven.
- Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth – In this poem, William Wordsworth describes the scenic beauty around the Westminster Bridge. In the early morning, the poet stands on the bridge and muses on the beauty of London.
- The Bridge by Shel Silverstein – It’s regarded as one of the best-known poems by Shel Silverstein. Here, the poet compares the bridge to writing.
You can read about 10 of the Best 20th Century American Poets here.