Places: The Bridge

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1930

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Epic

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Brooklyn Bridge

*Brooklyn Bridge, TheBridge. Steel suspension bridge connecting New York City’s boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn that opened in 1883. Considered a masterpiece of modern architecture and engineering, it serves Crane’s poem as a symbol of unimaginable, divinelike power, as well as a bridge to the past, the America of Crane’s time, and to the future. Crane opens with a paean, or hymn of praise, to the bridge, While composing this poem, Crane rented the apartment in Columbia Heights from which the bridge’s designer, John Augustus Roebling, had overseen its construction. The section titled “Proem” takes the angle of vision of that apartment window, which looked down at the bridge, and follows a sea gull as it rises up over the top of the bridge and disappears–a metaphor for imaginative flight.

*New York City

*New York City. Crane’s vision of America’s largest city is ambiguous. On one hand, “Proem” and “The Tunnel” depict a city resembling London in T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem “The Waste Land,” which contrasts a sordid contemporary urban environment with an idealized past. In Crane’s poem, many of New York’s famous streets exemplify a similar contrast: Avenue A, Broadway, Fourteenth Street, Chambers Street, Bleeker Street, and Prince Street. On the other hand, in “Proem” and “Atlantis,” New York’s Brooklyn Bridge represents the greatest achievement of modern man.

*Cathay

*Cathay. Medieval name for northern China, the fabled Orient and a land of spices and riches. Crane uses it here as the first of a series of “promised lands,” including Atlantis, Avalon, and America. These idealized places are backdrops for the modern mechanical age, which, too, has enormous potential and great dangers.

River

River. The central image of “The River” is the Mississippi River, which flows past Cairo, Illinois, where it is joined by the Ohio River and symbolizes freedom and continuity. Although most of the section actually is set first on a train and among hoboes crossing the country, the river, like the bridge, connects past and present America.

*Cape Hatteras

*Cape Hatteras. North Carolina promontory where Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their first airplane from the hill at Kitty Hawk. Crane speculates both on the awesome power of modern machines, embodiments of the creative power of the imagination and, potentially, destructive of human values.

Quaker Hill

Quaker Hill. New England location with an old hotel called the Mizzentop, a beautiful relic of a more glorious time sullied by modern commercialism that has replaced the earlier peace and tranquillity of the Quaker religious meeting.

BibliographyBrunner, Edward. Splendid Failure: Hart Crane and the Making of “The Bridge.” Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1985. Despite its title, this work sets out to disprove the conventional wisdom that Crane’s was a largely undisciplined and reckless talent. The Bridge is the culmination of Crane’s continuing effort to hone his craft.Clark, David R., ed. Studies in “The Bridge.” Westerville, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill, 1970. A compilation of fourteen essays, providing a road map of critical responses to the poem virtually from the time of its publication to the 1960’s. Most of the major commentators are represented.Crane, Hart. The Letters of Hart Crane, 1916-1932. Edited by Brom Weber. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952. Crane was an astute critic of his own work and that of others. Offers many insights into The Bridge.Horton, Phillip. Hart Crane: The Life of an American Poet. New York: Viking Press, 1957. Written with the cooperation of Crane’s mother, this biography is like a novel in its sense of drama. It does not stint on insightful analyses of Crane’s poetry.Paul, Sherman. Hart’s Bridge. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1972. The first book-length treatment of Crane’s masterwork. The Bridge required Crane to achieve the maturity of vision and technique required of epic poetry.
Categories: Places