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How can one best bridge the modern world to the natural world? In Hart Crane's (1899‐1932) poetry book The Bridge (1930), the Modernist American Poet suggests that the modern and natural worlds are not contrary to one another. Rather, they both serve to create a uniquely American identity.
The Bridge: Background Information
The Bridge (1930) is a poetry book written by the American poet Hart Crane. The Bridge is known as Crane's most significant work and only long poem, which was inspired by his ideas of American identity and modernity in New York City.
Crane's poetry is known for its complexity and unique style. The poet is known as a Modernist who took a more optimistic view of industrialized city life than other modernist poets. Hart Crane wrote The Bridge as a response to T.S. Eliot's (1888‐1965) poem, The Waste Land (1922), which expresses cynicism for post-World War I industrialized urban life.
Modernism was a literary movement in Europe and America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Modernism was an attempt to move away from traditional forms of expression to more accurately reflect changing ideas, industrialization, the growth of technology, and the disillusionment brought on by the First World War (1914‐1918).
The structure of The Bridge is frequently discussed. The poem is primarily viewed as a single, long poem. However, it is also understood as being comprised of 15 lyric poems. The poems in The Bridge vary greatly in length, subject matter, form, and meter. Hart Crane intended that his poetry would reflect the changing flow of jazz and classical music, which he frequently listened to while writing.
A lyric poem is a poem that expresses strong feelings and emotions in a songlike manner. Lyric poems are frequently told from the first-person perspective.
The Bridge is made up of the following 15 parts or poems:
"Powhatan's Daughter" consists of 5 parts counted as individual poems. Likewise, "Three Songs" consists of 3 sections counted as individual poems.
The Bridge begins with Crane establishing the Brooklyn Bridge as a central figure in the text through his poem "To Brooklyn Bridge." He personifies the bridge as a structure that interacts with nature and reminds city dwellers of the vastness of the world. The poem ends by suggesting that the bridge is something that shows compassion for the people, evoking the sense of God depending upon his people:
"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." (41‐44)
The idea of religion and nature being intertwined continues in Crane's second poem, "Ave Maria," which is a fictionalized account of Columbus's rough journey home from America by sea. Columbus attributed the safety of his journey to the intersession of the Virgin Mary:
"And they came out to us crying,
'The Great White Birds!' (O Madre María, still
One ship of these thou grantest safe returning;
Assure us through thy mantle's ageless blue!)" (25‐28)
Hart Crane's poetry divulges deeper into a fictionalized American history, as the next part of his book is called "Powhatan's Daughter." This five-part poem begins with an epigraph quoting a colonist's description of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan's daughter.
An epigraph is a quote or phrase from another literary work that is placed at the beginning of a text.
Hart Crane's poems also include epigraphs from different famous writers and philosophers, including the American writers Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickenson.
The poems in this section divulge into the American landscape and experience, spanning greatly different times and locations. However, they touch on the idea of history and how American history is tied together in a river of rushing moments, events, dreams, and landscapes. In "Powhatan's Daughter: The River," the poet writes:
"The River, spreading, flows — and spends your dream
What are you, lost within this tideless spell?
You are your father's father, and the stream" (120‐122)
The "Powhatan's Daughter" poems divulge rapidly in a series of styles and ideas. Still, they return to the idea of Pocahontas as a sort of mother of America from which American life, nature, and people stem. Hart Crane depicts Pocahontas as a powerful, maternal, and romanticized force.
Hart Crane's use of Text in the Margins
Hart Crane interestingly uses italicized comments in the margins of the "Powhatan's Daughter" poems to return to the idea of Pocahontas, while the stanzas diverge in topics. Through this, Crane creates both an undercurrent and overcurrent of thought, suggesting that America's past underlies all that goes on in the present and future.
In "Cape Hatteras," Crane explores the idea of the powers of nature, technology, and industrialization in intense, densely packed stanzas ultimately dedicated to the American poet Walt Whitman (1819‐1892). Crane's poem deals with the mechanization of flight, as Cape Hatteras was where the Wright Brothers took off on their first successful flight, and it was also the site of a later plane crash.
In the section of his book entitled "Three Songs," Hart Crane explores the idea of human sin, lust, and the need for redemption through the biblical ideas of Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Eve. The poems explore the intense human longing for meaning and connection, which is frequently met with frustration. In the second poem of the section, "Three Songs: National Winter Garden," Crane writes:
"Yet, to the empty trapeze of your flesh,
O Magdalene, each comes back to die alone.
Then you, the burlesque of our lust — and faith,
Lug us back lifeward — bone by infant bone." (25‐28)
Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus who was present throughout his ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. Her identity in the Gospels was often confused with other women named Mary, leading to her association with prostitution.
The final poems of Hart Crane's collection, "The Tunnel" and "Atlantis," hone into the idea of industrialization and the modern world as a place of overwhelming overstimulation. However, in the final poem, "Atlantis," Crane returns to the idea of the Brooklyn Bridge as an imposing figure that ultimately evokes a heavenly air. The ideas and symbolism found in "The Tunnel" and "Atlantis" will be explored further in the following section.
The Bridge and "The River" are both titles of Hart Crane's works, which are reoccurring ideas throughout his poetry book.
The poet uses the image of the Brooklyn Bridge to frame his poetry book. Both the initial poem, "To Brooklyn Bridge," and the final poem, "Atlantis," are built on the imagery of the Brooklyn Bridge in different circumstances and surroundings. Both poems ultimately portray the bridge as a glorious symbol of modernity that stands for America's identity and future.
Hart Crane had a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge from his apartment in Columbia Heights, Brooklyn.
Rather than falling into despair over the rapidity of change and overstimulation of modern city life, Crane ultimately sees the bridge as a pathway to progress, which contains its own unique beauty and evokes the idea of eternity. The final poem of the book, "Atlantis," clearly illustrates the hope amidst industrialization:
"Through the bound cable strands, the arching path
Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings, —
Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate
The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.
Up the index of night, granite and steel —
Transparent meshes — fleckless the gleaming staves —
Sibylline voices flicker, waveringly stream
As though a god were issue of the strings" (1‐8)
The idea of bridges also comes in the midst of the poetry book, enforcing the idea of connection. As bridges link places together, Crane aims to do the same, linking times, places, and ideas in the stream of American history and ideals. The bridge also symbolizes this notion of interconnectedness, emphasizing how the past is linked to the present and the future.
The river is used as a metaphor that points to the interconnectedness and flow of American existence and history. As the poet jumps between the times of Columbus's journey to New York City's burgeoning industrial life, he suggests that there is a fluidity of time and experience. He uses the river as a metaphor to symbolize the rapid current and progression of American life. The country's past history flows into its future in a singular stream.
In the poem "The Tunnel," Hart Crane compares the New York City subway to underground rivers, full of motion and aiding interconnectivity:
of cities you bespeak
subways, rivered under streets
and rivers. . . .In the car
the overtone of motion
underground, the monotone
of motion is the sound
of other faces, also underground —" (31‐38)
Although Hart Crane's poetry appears to divulge down a variety of avenues, The Bridge ultimately conveys the meaning that American life and identity are simultaneously rooted in the past and the future. The Bridge depicts the poet's sense of hope in the future of modern America, which is built upon its interesting history, ingenuity, and natural beauty.
The Bridge makes frequent references to God and the Christian religion. Hart Crane alludes to Latin hymns of praise and frequently mentions the Virgin Mary, in addition to Mary Magdalene and Eve. In the poem "Ave Maria," which means 'Hail Mary,' the poet writes:
naked in the
Te Deum laudamus
O Thou Hand of Fire" (89‐93)
"Te Deum laudamus" means "We praise thee, God" in Latin. It is a famous Latin hymn, or religious song of praise.
Hart Crane uses a sense of spirituality to explore a human search for meaning and destination. The poet uses spirituality to encapsulate the magnitude of life and history as it is experienced. His references to God and religion evoke a sense of spirituality, which he interestingly uses to depict the beauty and power of nature and the modern world. Just as Crane combines the worlds of the past and present, he characterizes the physical world with elements of the spiritual world.
The poet's praise of God, nature, and the modern world lends a fervent, passionate mood to the poem.
Similar to how Crane's poetry praises God, it also gives praise to nature and the modern world. The poet depicts the vast beauty of the American landscape, spanning states and terrains, and traveling rural lands to New York City. However, the poet does not shy away from the crowded confusion of modernity. He instead channels it into a greater picture of the innovation of America. The Bridge stands as a representation of modernity and its capacity to evoke spirituality and engage with the natural world and humanity in a positive way.
The Bridge poem is about how American life and identity are simultaneously rooted in the past and the future. The Bridge depicts the poet's sense of hope in the future of America, which is built upon its interesting history, ingenuity, and natural beauty.
The Bridge mentioned in the poem is the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.
The Bridge is written by the American poet, Hart Crane.
Some themes in the poem The Bridge are God, spirituality, nature, and the modern world.
The mood of the poem is fervent and passionate.
Who is the author of The Bridge?
What city is prominently featured in The Bridge?
New York City
True or False: The Bridge is seen as a long poem comprised of 15 lyric poems that vary greatly in length, subject matter, form, and meter.
True or False: Hart Crane intended that his poetry would reflect the changing flow of Jazz and Classical music, which he frequently listened to while writing.
What is the first poem in the collection titled?
"To Brooklyn Bridge"
Who is "Powhatan's Daughter"?
What does the Brooklyn Bridge symbolize in the poetry book?
The bridge is a glorious symbol of modernity that stands for America's identity and future
True or False: Crane uses the river as a metaphor to suggest the rapid current and progression of American life, which nonetheless carries the country into what Hart believes will be a positive future.
Name at least two prominent themes in the poetry book.
God, spirituality, nature, the modern world
What is the mood of the poetry book?
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