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The Bridge (Paperback 1992) Paperback – July 17, 1992
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“Hart Crane may well remain as the greatest poet produced by American since Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. . . . His imaginative intensity, his flashes of imagery, his Elizabethan grandeur, make his rich black verse eclipse most of the poetry written in English since Yeats.”
- Henri Peyre, New York Times Book Review
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and I also believe that it is. It is an endeavor by the poet to fuse the entire American experience with
all of it's many contradictory elements into one epic poem.
An epic poem which explores America, "modern" poetic imagery (the Brooklyn bridge as opposed to a tree), Columbus, Whitman, Poe, Pocahontas, and sea imagery. It also contains very bold (for the pre-Stonewall era) allusions to homosexuality, in the typical method of the period which is rooted in gender-neutrality.
Crane first conceived the project of a long poem on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1923. He worked on it fitfully for six years completing in in 1929. The poem was published in 1930. Crane received financial assistance from the philanthropist Otto Kahn (1867 -- 1934) to allow him to work on "The Bridge". We are forever in Kahn's debt. Crane's work on the poem was hindered by the complexity of its themes and by severe excesses in his personal life. But Crane persevered and was able to realize his project. Crane committed suicide in 1932. A difficult and still controversial work, the Bridge has won an important place in American literature. More than that, it has long won a place in my heart.
Hart Crane wrote "The Bridge" as an answer to the pessimism and despair of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land." Crane wanted to create a vision of hope for modern life and a secular myth for the United States. He tried to do so by using the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge, engineered by Washington Roebling, as a symbol. By coincidence, Crane lived for some years in a small room in Brooklyn Heights from which he could see the Brooklyn Bridge. Roebling had also lived in this same room.
In Crane's poem, the Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of power and industrialization and of the promise it offers to modern life. But it is infinitely more. The arch of the bride, in Crane's mythology, stretches backwards in time to the discovery of America, and further. The Bridge also stretches in space to encompass the continent in its entirety, the West, and, particularly the Mississippi River. The Brooklyn Bridge becomes, in Crane's myth, a transcendent symbol in which distinctions of time and place are obliterated in a mystic vision of self and of the United States. The myth of the poem is also highly personal, as the poet tries to come to terms with his life. In the journey of the poem, the poet leaves his lover in bed in the morning to cross the bridge. He visits a bar at the foot of the bridge and has a conversation and a drink with an old sailor before he returns home late in the evening on the subway. The poet's refelections encompass, through meditation on the Brooklyn Bridge, Columbus, Pocahontas, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, the machine age, and the poet's own life and attempt to overcome what he describes in the "Quaker Hill" section of "The Bridge" as "the curse of sundered parentage."
Crane's poem begins with a magnificent introduction "To Brooklyn Bridge" in which he announces his theme to "And of the curveship lend a myth to God." The poem closes with the mystic vision of "Atlantis", the first section of the work Crane composed in which he tries to bring his difficult vision to unity in what he describes as a "Swift peal of secular light, intrinsic Myth". Cranes's metaphorical Bridge exists in "Everpresence, beyond time,/Like spears ensanguined of one tolling star/ that bleeds infinity/ ...", as the Bridge "Whispers antiphonal in azure swing." As Crane develops his theme, the mythical Bridge is a call to transcendence, hope and reflection and to human love and the brotherhood of man.
The poem is written in varied styles and passages of beautiful blank verse alternate with colloquial passages and with passages that illustrate the depressed, debased character of modern life that Eliot described in "The Waste Land." Crane tried valiantly to overcome these negative elements in his poem. Crane's own vision included dark, despairing moments, expressed in the "Quaker Hill" and "The Tunnel" sections of "The Bridge" which the final vision of "Atlantis" struggles to incorporate.
Some of the sections of the "The Bridge", particularly "Indiana" and "Quaker Hill" were composed in haste as Crane struggled to complete his poem and are frequently regarded as weak links in the work's grand scheme. Some sections of "The Bridge" lack the immediacy and the sheer verbal beauty of Crane's earlier poems in the collection "White Buildings."
For all its difficulties and its mixed success, The Bridge never ceases to inspire me. It is a difficult and hard-won vision of the mythic, the secular, and the personal promise of American life. It was a noble effort. I urge readers of this review to explore Hart Crane's American poem, "The Bridge".
The Bridge is a wonderful poem. john t irwin, in his brilliant study, Hart Crane's Poetry, set out to show why The Bridge is `...the best twentieth century long poem in English...' whether you agree with irwin or not, he does a wonderful service as he clarifies, situates the underlying myths and themes and influences and shows how the poem as a whole fits together, how crane arranged and manipulated symbols, and, at his poetical best, transmuted through the process of poetic creation a stone and steel construction to a magnificent vibrating song in the concluding section Atlantis, giving us a magnificent symbol.
there are the readers who love, i suppose unconditionally, crane's Bridge at first or subsequent readings, who are not in need of a guide. for the rest of us, there are books to guide us along the way, one of the best is john t. irwin's Hart Crane's Poetry.