The Bridge

Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, in 1899. By age seventeen, his budding artistic temperament yearned for New York. Despite his father’s wish that Crane join the family business, a candy factory, he managed to convince his parents to let him move to the big city. Naturally volatile and unsettled, he spent the next few years moving from apartment to apartment, taking odd copywriting jobs, returning to Ohio on occasion to work for his father and save some money.

In New York, Crane made the acquaintances of many important literary figures of the time, including Allen Tate, Katherine Anne Porter, E. E. Cummings, and Jean Toomer, but his heavy drinking and chronic instability thwarted any possibility for lasting friendship.

An admirer of T. S. Eliot, Crane hoped to combine the influences of European literature and traditional versification with a particularly American sensibility derived from Walt Whitman, while establishing a style of his own. His first book of poems, published in 1926, White Buildings, reflects this eagerness and borrows motifs from Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Cummings, and Williams. Out of this blend of influences, Crane managed to create a unique style that took shape in his later work.

Crane was intent on writing an American epic, his own chronological journey, but many of his plans proved overly ambitious, and often his rampant lifestyle interrupted his vision. Choosing to focus instead on the urban scenes of New York, Crane began work on The Bridge while living in the Isle of Pines in the Caribbean.

Physically removed from the city, Crane relied on his memory and imagination to render the numerous awesome and grotesque nuances of New York, evident in poems such as "The Tunnel" and "Cutty Sark." The book’s opening, "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge," is indicative of Crane’s ecstatic, symbolic vision of the modern city:

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!

Publication of The Bridge in 1930 brought Crane considerable attention and favorable reviews. In 1931, Crane was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and traveled to Mexico where he planned to begin a long poem on the Aztec civilization. However, Crane would never again complete anything as complex or compelling as The Bridge. He committed suicide, at the age of thirty-three, by jumping from a steamship sailing back to New York from Mexico.