Hart Crane’s Best Work Of 1869

How many of us don’t listen to our urges? Perhaps most intrinsic of all human dispositions is that base desire to explore — a thirst for adventure. That’s what Brooklyn Bridge represents in a fan-favorite Hart Crane poem, To Brooklyn Bridge. Here it is in its entirety:

Proem: To Brooklyn 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.

The bridge represents the potential inherent in an epic adventure that we all must embark upon at some point in our lives, whether personal or actual. In this poem we get to congregate with all those explorers who came before us. Perhaps most of all, To Brooklyn Bridge is a metaphor for the American resolve to make things bigger and better — to constantly strive to achieve the very best we can achieve. And perhaps that is what makes the poet timeless.