To Brooklyn Bridge

- 1899-1932

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.

More by Hart Crane

Chaplinesque

We make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

Voyages II

—And yet this great wink of eternity,
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,
Samite sheeted and processioned where
Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,
Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;

Take this Sea, whose diapason knells
On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,
The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends
As her demeanors motion well or ill,
All but the pieties of lovers' hands.

And onward, as bells off San Salvador
Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.

Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours,
And hasten while her penniless rich palms
Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,—
Hasten, while they are true,—sleep, death, desire,
Close round one instant in one floating flower.

Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal's wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.

My Grandmother's Love Letters


There are no stars tonight 
But those of memory. 
Yet how much room for memory there is 
In the loose girdle of soft rain. 

There is even room enough 
For the letters of my mother’s mother, 
Elizabeth, 
That have been pressed so long 
Into a corner of the roof 
That they are brown and soft, 
And liable to melt as snow. 

Over the greatness of such space 
Steps must be gentle. 
It is all hung by an invisible white hair. 
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air. 

And I ask myself: 

"Are your fingers long enough to play 
Old keys that are but echoes: 
Is the silence strong enough 
To carry back the music to its source 
And back to you again 
As though to her?"

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand 
Through much of what she would not understand; 
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof 
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

Related Poems

The Bridge, Palm Sunday, 1973

It avails not. time nor place—distance avails not. . . 
                                   —Whitman. "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
 
The bridge was a huge sentence diagram, 
You and I the compound subject, moving 
Toward the verb. We stopped, breathing 
Balloonfuls of air; and noonday sun sent down 
A hard spray of light. Sensing an occasion,
I put my arm on your shoulder, my friend 
And brother. Words, today, took the form of actions. 

The object of the pilgrimage, 110 Columbia Heights,
Where Hart Crane once lived, no longer existed, 
We learned, torn down, the physical address gone. 
A second possible tribute was to read his Proem 
There on the Promenade in sight of the theme. 
That line moved you about the bedlamite whose shirt 
Balloons as he drops into the river, much like 
Crane's death, though he wasn't a "bedlamite"; 
A dreamer, maybe who called on Whitman and clasped 
His present hand, as if to build a bridge across time. . . . 

We hadn't imagined happenstance would lead us next
To join with the daydreamers lined up before 
An Easter diorama of duck eggs, hatching 
Behind plate glass. The intended sentiment featured 
Feathered skeletons racked with spasms of pecking 
Against resistant shell, struggling out of dim 
Solitary into incandescence and gravity, and quaking 
With the shock of sound and sight as though existence 
Were a nervous disease. All newborns receive the same 
Sentence—birth, death, equivalent triumphs. 
 
Two deaf-mutes walked back the same but inverse way, 
Fatigue making strangers of us and the afternoon 
Hurt, like sunburn. Overexposure is a constant 
Risk of sensation and of company. I wondered 
Why we were together—is friendship imaginary? 
And does imagination obscure or reveal its subject? 
The ties always feel strange, strung along happenstance, 
Following no diagram, incomplete, a bridge of suspense. . . .

 Sometimes completed things revisited still resonate. 
I'm thinking about Crane's poem of the Bridge, 
Grand enough to inspire disbelief and to suspend it. 
The truth may lie in imagining a connection 
With him or with you; with anyone able to overlook 
Distance, shrug off time, on the right occasion. . . . 

If I called him a brother—help me with this, Hart—
Who climbed toward light and sensation until the sky 
Broke open to reveal an acute, perfect convergence 
Before letting him fall back into error and mortality, 
Would we be joined with him and the voyagers before him? 
Would a new sentence be pronounced, a living connection 
Between island and island, for a second, be made?