Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge
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.
Talking about why he chose this poem, Hoon writes:
“The poem is also noteworthy for its intriguing mixture of modernism and elizabethan style, its use of the archaic pronoun Thou in its varied forms, the standard iambic pentameter that it’s written-in, but even beyond that, a rhythmic style, grandeur or solemnity, that sounds and feels Elizabethan, derived from King James. And so provides a venue to learning or review about the iambic line, in action as it were. Its probably useful to compare Crane’s Proem with a short speech from Shakespeare, say, Jaques’ Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like it. “
You can read more of Hoon’s thoughts on this poem, as well as a delightful poetic paraphrase of the poem here.
Hoon also provides a version of the text marked for prosody, accent and metrical scansion (plus an evocative background image) here, so you may want to listen to the poem while reading along with that.