The Bridge Background

The Bridge Background

Still searching for a way to support himself entirely with his writing in 1925, Hart Crane showed up at the farm that poet Allan Tate shared with novelist Caroline Gordon. In between drinking bouts and various other assorted indulgences, Crane set to work on The Bridge, a long work of verse that one critic described as the “culmination of Crane’s search for a secular myth not dependent upon past dogmas.” Crane had actually begun working on The Bridge two years earlier and would not publish it until 1930

The Bridge is a book-length work of verse separated into eight parts then again into two additional subsections. The Brooklyn Bridge--at the time considered one of the great wonders of the modern world and an exemplar of American ingenuity and hard work--was the inspiration for this panoramic exploration of the American experience from the Spanish conquests in the Age of Exploration up to the 20th century progression into modern society which Crane saw around him. The intent, according to Crane, was to create a “mystical synthesis of America.”

This synthesis is worked out in the poem by thematically calling upon virtually the whole of American history. The result is an epic exploration of familiar names and events that transformed through the lens of Crane’s imagination. This exploration verges from a witty reimagining of the Rip Van Winkle folk tale to a heartfelt condemnation of the treatment of Native Americans. This bridging of the past to the present is a journey that includes stops for a burlesque show and the revelation of Pocahontas as an old, tragic Indian squaw with references and allusions to William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson.

The Bridge situated Hart Crane as a major voice in American poetry. It represents to some the promise that he would have gone on to become the greatest American poet ever had his career not been cut tragically short just two years after its publication, when he was just 32 years old.

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