To Brooklyn Bridge

How do you feel when you see a grand bridge hovering across a great body of water? Are you amazed at the power of engineering, design, and infrastructure? Or are you overwhelmed by the imposing image of stability and peace? In the poem "To Brooklyn Bridge," the American poet Hart Crane (1899‐1932) investigates the image of the Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol of both modernity and serenity, connecting the busy rush of city life to the boundless bliss of heaven and nature 

To Brooklyn Bridge To Brooklyn Bridge

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    To Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Brooklyn Bridge connects Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York City. When it opened in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge" Poem Summary
    Poet: Hart Crane (1899‐1932)
    Poetry Book:The Bridge (1930)
    Year Published:1930
    Genre:Lyrical ode
    Form:Three sections of quatrains
    Meter:None (but can fall into iambic pentameter)
    Rhyme Scheme:Free verse
    Tone:Admiration and awe
    Poetic Devices:Symbolism, contrast, apostrophe, personification, imagery, simile, alliteration, and sibilance
    Themes:Nature and modernity and spirituality and religion
    Analysis:The Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of peace, hope, and strength amidst the busy, distracted nature of city life. The poem is a powerful ode to one of New York's most iconic landmarks and a testament to the enduring power of the American spirit.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Background Information

    "To Brooklyn Bridge" (1930) is a poem by the American Modernist poet Hart Crane. The poem is one of 15 poems that make up an epic poem entitled, The Bridge (1930). The Bridge details the poet's idea of the American experience in various poetic styles. "To Brooklyn Bridge" is the opening poem of the collection. It presents the poem's central symbol, the bridge, as a sign of the modern world that offers strength and peace.

    Hart Crane wrote poetry contrary to the cynicism of the urbanist, industrial word presented in T.S. Eliot's seminal Modernist poem, The Waste Land (1922). Crane saw hope and light within the modernized world that many other poets of his time did not.

    While writing the poem, Hart Crane lived at 110 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, where he had an excellent view of the Brooklyn Bridge from his window. Later, Crane found out that the engineer responsible for supervising the construction of the bridge, Washington Roebling, had lived in the exact same apartment!

    Modernism is a literary movement that was popular in the late 19th to early 20th century. Modernism turned away from traditional forms of writing to make new styles of writing that reflected societal changes brought on by industrialization, technology, and the effects of World War I. Famous Modernist poets include Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Poem

    Here is the full poem of "To Brooklyn Bridge":

    How many dawns, chill from his rippling restThe seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,Shedding white rings of tumult, building highOver the chained bay waters Liberty—Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes As apparitional as sails that crossSome page of figures to be filed away;—Till elevators drop us from our day ...I think of cinemas, panoramic sleightsWith multitudes bent toward some flashing sceneNever disclosed, but hastened to again,Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;And Thee, across the harbor, silver pacedAs though the sun took step of thee yet leftSome motion ever unspent in thy stride,—Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loftA 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 bestowOf 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 swiftUnfractioned 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 waitedOnly 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, descendAnd of the curveship lend a myth to God."

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Poem Summary

    Below is a stanza by stanza summary of the poem, "To Brooklyn Bridge" by Hart Crane. The poem weaves together imagery of city life, nature, and heaven by depicting how this New York City bridge interacts with its surroundings.

    Stanzas 1 & 2: Summary

    The poet writes that the bridge has seen many dawns. He paints a picture of the bridge with seagulls flying around it in a noisy mass, forming "white rings of tumult" in the sky (3). The birds fly over the bridge which crosses the East River of New York City. The Statue of Liberty can be seen in the view of the bay and the bridge.

    The poet depicts the bridge fading out of view like the sails of a traveling boat or a paper that is filed away. The curve and view of the bridge disappear as the people become immersed in their day-to-day city life and work, where "elevators drop us from our day" (8).

    To Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and hope of opportunity for immigrants to America. Hart Crane portrays the bridge similarly as an imposing image of strength, freedom, and hope.

    Stanza 3 & 4: Summary

    The poet compares the view of the bridge to a shot on a movie theater screen. An audience of people watches the bridge, which can be seen and experienced by them all in a slightly different way.

    Regardless of the changing ways the Brooklyn Bridge may be presented, it maintains a sense of dignity and presents a sense of freedom that resonates with the American ethos. The poet personifies the bridge as a pacing, striding person who has caught the sunlight and stands with pride.

    Stanza 5 & 6: Summary

    The poem picks up pace and intensity as the poet depicts a crazy man running out of the bustle and constriction of the city to jump over the low wall of the bridge. He depicts the man falling with his "shrill shirt ballooning" (19) like a parachute as a man in a car watches and makes a joke.

    The poet describes how below the bridge the city streets reek of foul smells. The sunlight peeks through jagged shadows. Construction ensues as the cranes turn and the cables of the bridge breathe in the North Atlantic.

    Vocabulary in Stanzas 5 & 6 of "To Brooklyn Bridge"

    The vocabulary in these two stanzas of the poem is particularly challenging. Let's take a look at the meanings of some words that will help you better understand the poem:

    • Scuttle: bustle, scramble
    • Bedlamite: madman, lunatic, crazy person
    • Parapets: low, protective walls of a bridge or balcony
    • Girder: iron or steel beams used to support bridges
    • Acetylene: colorless, foul-smelling hydrocarbon that burns bright
    • Derrick: crane with an arm that pivots

    Stanza 7 & 8: Summary

    The poet compares the bridge to the "obscure...heaven of the Jews" (25). The poem takes on a prophetic tone as the poet describes how the bridge grants the rewards of "anonymity" (27), relief from punishment, and forgiveness.

    The poet compares the cables and road of the bridge to a "harp and alter" (29). He emphasizes amazement at the fact that the cables are so perfectly aligned. The perfection of the bridge's design amounts to the heavenly sound of the "choiring strings" of the harp (30). The bridge is an image of the perfection of creation, depicted as a place of safety for outcasts who may wander or live below it.

    A "guerdon" is a prize or reward (26). What do you think humanity gains from the bridge, according to the poet's description?

    Stanza 9 & 10: Summary

    The poet compares the lights on the bridge to a pathway of stars leading to a picture of heavenly "eternity" (35). He personifies the bridge as lifting the night up in its arms.

    The speaker then places himself in the poem, stating that he waited under the bridge's "shadow by the piers" (38). He finds clarity in the darkness under the bridge as the year ends and winter's snow "submerges" time (40).

    Stanza 11: Summary

    The poet depicts the bridge as something that never sleeps but always stands, "Vaulting the sea" (24). The speaker asks the bridge to "sweep" down and "descend" on the lowly people as a reminder of the connection between earthly life and God (43).

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Poem Meaning

    The poem "To Brooklyn Bridge" conveys the meaning that the Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of peace, hope, and strength amidst the busy, distracted nature of city life. The poet depicts how something modern and man-made can still evoke natural beauty—and even God. The bridge has an imposing, inspiring physical presence that exudes a spiritual quality.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Poem Analysis of Form

    "To Brooklyn Bridge" is a lyrical ode written in 11 quatrains.

    A lyrical ode is a short, songlike poem written in praise of a person, place, or thing. Lyrical poems typically express strong emotions from the first person perspective.

    A quatrain is a four-line stanza.

    Hart Crane writes in seemingly structured stanzas; however, he experiments with meter, tone, and rhyme throughout the poem as he describes the Brooklyn Bridge from a series of different perspectives.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Meter and Rhyme

    The poem has no regular meter or rhyme scheme. However, Hart Crane uses internal and end rhymes, and the meter frequently falls into iambic pentameter, as seen in the poem's last line. Let's take a look at the last stanza of the poem to understand how Crane uses rhyme and iambic pentameter in his poem:

    "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."

    Iambic pentameter is a line of poetry with ten syllables in an alternating pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables.

    The poem falls into a sleepy dream with the swing of the simple rhymes, and it falls into a steady pace with the last line written in pure iambic pentameter. The use of iambic pentameter evokes more traditional poetry and grounds the poem in the final image and idea of the bridge as a link between the earthly and spiritual worlds.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Literary Devices

    The poem features numerous literary devices, including symbolism, contrast, apostrophe, personification, imagery, simile, alliteration, and sibilance.

    Symbolism and Contrast

    In the poem, the seagulls and the bridge are both symbols of freedom. The seagulls symbolize the freedom and chaos of life and the natural world as it tries to coexist with modernity. The poet writes, "The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him, / Shedding white rings of tumult, building high / Over the chained bay waters Liberty" (2‐4).

    The poet presents the contrast between freedom and the confinement of city life. The seagulls fly between the bridge and above the high buildings and "chained bay waters." Crane presents the conflicts of urban life with a chaotic, crowded, busyness that characterizes it.

    The Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of freedom, peace, strength, stability, and hope, which balances the chaos of the city. The sight of the bridge evokes peace as it powerfully stands across the waters and facilitates the bustle of city life, providing calm and support. The bridge also symbolizes how modernity can facilitate life and beauty. In the poem, the sight of the bridge evokes feelings similar to viewing a sunset or the dawn.

    A symbol is something that conveys meaning beyond its literal meaning.

    Contrast is the emphasis on the differences between two people, places, or things.

    Apostrophe and Personification

    Crane's poem is built upon the use of apostrophe and personification, as the Brooklyn Bridge is addressed as a person to whom the poet speaks.

    "And Thee, across the harbor, silver pacedAs though the sun took step of thee yet leftSome motion ever unspent in thy stride,—Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!" (13‐16)

    The poet uses apostrophe in addressing the bridge as "Thee" and "thy," meaning you and your. The use of apostrophe aids the personification, which is carried throughout the poem, lending life, action, and character to the bridge.

    In the example above, the bridge is personified as something that paces and strides, maintaining a sense of freedom and pride free from the city's confines. Crane uses personification to emphasize that the bridge is alive in how it facilitates and interacts with the life of the city. Due to the hustle and bustle of city life, everything, including structures and machinery, appears alive and breathing.

    Apostrophe is the direct address of a dead person or a nonliving thing.

    Personification is when human characteristics are given to nonhuman things.

    Imagery and Simile

    The poem uses unexpected biblical imagery and simile to emphasize the bridge's spirituality. The poet writes that the bridge is "obscure as that heaven of the Jews" (25). He uses the imagery of a "harp and alter" and an "immaculate sigh of stars," illuminating a path to "condense eternity" (29, 34, 35). The poet points to the wonderful strangeness of the bridge, which stands as a pathway of peace and freedom amidst and crowded city. Crane uses biblical imagery to suggest that the bridge is the closest thing to a foretaste of heavenly life that people in New York City can get. The bridge is so large that it appears to span for eternity.

    Imagery is the use of descriptive language that appeals to the senses.

    A simile is a figurative comparison that uses like or as.

    Alliteration and Sibilance

    The poem makes frequent use of sound-related literary devices, such as alliteration and sibilance, to carry the reading forward in a strong yet flowing manner:

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

    The alliteration of the "s" and "i" sounds links descriptive phrases within Crane's abundant, additive descriptions. The repetition of the "s" sound creates a whispering noise that mimics the quiet of the night being portrayed. Again, the poet uses contrast to paint the lively city and its bright lights as soft, tender, and calming. Crane suggests that the bridge lends a tenderness to the city and its people as it lifts the night into its arms.

    Alliteration is the repetition of the initial sounds of nearby words.

    Sibilance is the repetition of sound, which creates a whispering or hissing effect.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge": Poem Theme

    The poem explores the themes of nature and modernity and spirituality and religion.

    Nature and Modernity

    In the poem, nature and modernity are introduced side by side through the initial image of the bridge at dawn with the seagulls flying around it. Rather than producing a strict contrast between the natural world and the urban, industrialized city, Hart Crane interweaves the imagery of nature and modernity. While the bridge is a constructed thing, it interacts with the sea, the birds, the sun, and the people. It is a symbol of hope that lends stability to a bustling, ever-changing, unstable city. Through the poem "To Brooklyn Bridge," Crane presents modernity as something that can be beautiful and inspire and facilitate daily life. The bridge is a platform for human experience and understanding of the natural world.

    Spirituality and Religion

    Hart Crane also presents the bridge as something that evokes a sense of spirituality. In the second half of the poem, he writes about it in prophetic, religious language. He compares the bridge and its cables to an altar and the strings of a harp. The poem describes the lights as stars and paints a picture of "stars, Beading thy path" to "condense eternity" (34‐35). As the bridge is something that reaches high into the sky and hovers above the water, it is closer to the heavens.

    The poet uses personification to relate the bridge to God, describing it as something that has compassion and mercy towards its people and embraces the night sky. The speaker of the poem wants the bridge to reach down to the outcasts and lost people of the city to provide a link or reminder of heavenly hope, beauty, and life.

    Do you think Hart Crane may also be suggesting that modernity has taken the place of God? Why or why not?

    To Brooklyn Bridge, Harp, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Hart Crane compares the cables of the bridge to the strings of a harp. The harp evokes the sound of heavenly music and associations with angels and the Bible.

    "To Brooklyn Bridge" - Key takeaways

    • "To Brooklyn Bridge" (1930) is a poem by the American poet Hart Crane.
    • The poem, "To Brooklyn Bridge" conveys the meaning that the Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of peace, hope, and strength amidst the busy, distracted nature of city life.
    • The poem is a lyrical ode written in 11 quatrains.
    • The poem features numerous literary devices including symbolism, contrast, apostrophe, personification, imagery, simile, alliteration, and sibilance.
    • The themes of the poem include nature and modernity and spirituality and religion.
    Frequently Asked Questions about To Brooklyn Bridge

    What is the central idea of "To Brooklyn Bridge"?

    The central idea of the poem "To Brooklyn Bridge" is that the Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of peace, hope, and strength amidst the busy, distracted nature of city life.

    What is the summary of "To Brooklyn Bridge"?

    A summary of "To Brooklyn Bridge" is the speaker describes the Brooklyn Bridge from different perspectives, exploring how it relates to nature, humanity, and the spiritual world. 

    What is "To Brooklyn Bridge" by Hart Crane about?

    "To Brooklyn Bridge" by Hart Crane is about how something modern and created can still evoke natural beauty and even God.

    What does the seagull symbolize in "to Brooklyn Bridge"?

    The seagull in "To Brooklyn Bridge" symbolizes the freedom and chaos of life and the natural world as it tries to coexist with modernity.

    What is the theme of "To Brooklyn Bridge"?

    "To Brooklyn Bridge" explores the themes of nature and modernity and spirituality and religion.

    Who wrote "To Brooklyn Bridge"?

    Hart Crane wrote "To Brooklyn Bridge" and published the poem in 1930.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What type of poem is "To Brooklyn Bridge"?

    Which of the following things does the Brooklyn Bridge not symbolize in the poem?

    What is a "bedlamite"?

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