Hart Crane's "To Brooklyn Bridge" is a rare poem that effectively uses diction to convey the immensity of something as large as a bridge. "To Brooklyn Bridge" is much more than a dedication to the famous bridge. The poem's word choice represents the grandiosity of the bridge itself. Its diction and tone combine to achieve a quintessential work that accurately depicts the size and importance of the Brooklyn bridge to New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike.
In the first stanza, Crane asks a question in a rather inquisitive tone. "How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest/The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him," (Crane, lines 1-2). Here, Crane uses diction to both personify and immortalize the famous bridge. He paints a picture of a bridge that is always there. The question is only a rhetorical device. The lasting reality, however, is Crane's picture of an immortal bridge, a masculine entity.
As immortal as the bridge is, it is a sight that is forgotten during the New Yorkers' busy day. "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 . . ." (Crane, 5-8). Crane observes that the bridge is forgotten, and is a ghostly memory during our work-filled days, until we join the rest of New York City at the end of the day, when elevators deliver us from our jobs. During this time, the bridge becomes an "apparition" from a foggy world. It still looms large, but our daytime obsession with work is a replacement of its memory -- in lieu of tallying numbers, as a bookkeeper or accountant would perform throughout the day. Again, Hart's larger-than-life language speaks not only about the bridge, but serves Crane's purpose in speaking for the bridge.
Similarly, the bridge takes on a larger perspective when its image is juxtaposed to the Atlantic Ocean. "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." (Crane, 21-24) Crane shows that the Brooklyn Bridge reflects yet minimizes the activities below. The Brooklyn Bridge is as high as the clouds, and its cables, like any other living organism, breathe. However, the Brooklyn Bridge, in all of its immensity and grandeur, breathes the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Crane also shows that the bridge is a part of the sky itself, likening the bridge to a rip-tooth of the colorful sky above. Here, Crane's diction and tone are regal, befitting a structure that, in essence, brings life to and fro the busy island of New York City's smallest borough, Manhattan.
Portraying the Brooklyn Bridge as God himself, Crane utilizes diction that calls forth powers that only God possesses. His monotheistic version of God is no less than the God of the Jews, Jehovah or Adonai. For example, the poem states, "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." (Crane, 25-29). Crane's diction is biblically-proportioned, as he accomplishes in four lines what some poets may take many poems to effectively phrase. Not only does Crane speak by using metaphors, but he also refers to metaphysics, evoking images of a Jewish heaven that is indescribable. The guerdon is the reward that the bridge gives in Heaven, and Crane states that the bridge, in all of its grandeur, transcends time itself. The bridge is omnipotent, and Crane's eloquent, yet powerful diction impresses this specific point upon the reader.
Crane's diction is especially poignant near the poem's conclusion. For instance, Crane states: "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,--" (Crane, 30-33). Crane's skilful usage of words are powerful, and, like the beginning of the poem, ask a rhetorical question. Crane, filled with awe, wonders how mere mortals could build something so transcendent and splendorous. Again, he uses words that denote Heaven -- and heavenly music, the harp and altar. Evidently, he also references the suicide toll that the Brooklyn Bridge took, as the broken-hearted pariahs of society prayed at its threshold (perhaps for forgiveness?). While Crane's diction is, at times, ambiguous, this quality lends itself well to freedom of interpretation by the poem's readers. Crane's aggrandized language choice sparks and inspires the imagination.
Hart Crane's "To Brooklyn Bridge" accomplishes much more than honoring a high-profile monument of New York City's skyline. The poem uses diction that aggrandizes the bridge, portraying the structure as an object that is at once heavenly and functional. He stresses its transcendental aspect much more throughout the verse, however. At the beginning of the poem, the poet asks a question. At the end of the poem, after exploring the immensity of its grandeur and the limitations of speech to describe its grandeur, Crane is still asking questions. In spite of his fluid diction, the Brooklyn Bridge defies words alone, and, like the primordial Heaven of the ancient tribes of Israel, is beyond description. As an omnipotent force, Crane's Brooklyn Bridge stretches the limits of words, plunging the reader into subjective interpretations and metaphysical ponderances.
Crane, Hart. (n.d.). "To Brooklyn Bridge." Retrieved from http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/brooklyn-bridge