Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge

November 26, 2007 at 4:06 pm 2 comments

Hart Crane

Listen  (to Hoon read)

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.

Finally, for additional commentary on the poem see Minstrels here. You can also check out the other Hart Crane poems on poi-tre here.



Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, Hart Crane, Hoon (

The God Forsakes Antony The Warm Rain

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Equivocal  |  November 27, 2007 at 6:54 am

    Hoon, not to be anal, but just to note that a few stresses have been left out in the scansion. It’s time consuming to search for and list them all, but as examples: LEND in the last line, AS in the first line of the last stanza, BY in the first line of the penultimate stanza, aCETyLENE (I personally would stress TOOTH as well in that line), CINeMAS PANoRAMic (the MAS in cinemas is disputable perhaps). I point these out firstly to note that although all stressed syllables in a metrical poem may not have the same weight, they can gain weight and beat in relation to an expectation of the metre, in relation to the imaginary metronome that gets going at the start of the line. An example that sometimes comes up with students is with the Larkin line,

    They FUCK you UP, your MOM and DAD

    …where i find students sometimes clearly hear the beats on FUCK, MOM and DAD, but miss the beat on UP, because it is of slightly lower volume. …Yes? But we know that Larkin did intend a beat there because the poem is in iambic tetrameter, and there is a general expectation set up in the lines. If this was jazz drumming, the beat on UP would be one for the softer whisk, perhaps.

    The second reason for this is that Crane’s poem becomes more interesting prosodically in the moments when it pulls away from the iambic metronome, as with the wonderful CHAINED BAY WATers that you have pointed out in your scansion, and which can’t really be scanned in any other way than the one you have shown. So the poem’s more traditionally iambic moments should all be held in place for these departures to show through more clearly. Of course you’re right, shakespeare can also be wonderfully rough in this way, and Crane’s debt to the Elizabethan sound is clear.

    On another note, Derek Walcott has talked about how the gull here first dips, then pivots, something he holds is one of the most accurate descriptions ever of a bird’s actual flight path in poetry. If that’s true, one could also add Arun Kolatkar’s (much later) description of a crow’s flight path in that poem from Kala Ghoda poems.

  • 2. hoon  |  November 28, 2007 at 12:24 am

    Equivocal –
    Anal? Freud is dead. Freudianism is dead. Few, I think, these days attribute OCD to toilet training. Still, I understand, it sticks in the language.

    I’m delighted that you’ve reacted to the marking-up of the lines for accent. There is in fact controversy as to how scanning should be done. Indeed much of the controversy centers around how lightly accented syllables that are on the beat ought to be treated. These are sometimes referred to as pyrrhic substitution. The Wikipedia entry on pyrrhic uses typographical means to render the following example from Tennyson’s In Memoriam which shows frequent use of the pyrrhic’s unaccented syllables:

    Be near me when my light is low,
    When the blood creeps and the nerves prick
    And tingle; and the heart is sick,
    And all the wheels of Being slow.

    (I hope this displays right!)

    Timothy Steele in his book All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing rails against the too frequent finding of such pyrrhic substitutions. I find his position somewhat pedantic in that he seems to simply insist that there’s a proper way to do a thing and that it’s automatic that everyone should do things in the right way; instead of trying to relate the issue to broader question of why we do scansion at all. We do it to try to bring attention to the pattern of accents in accentual verse, an awareness that is useful to both would-be writers and reciters as well. Reciters ought to be encouraged to create their own scansions as a tool for preparing their interpretations.

    There will always be disagreements on accentuation. My choices have been made guided by the notion of isochrony; that there is a tendency for accents to be spaced at equal time intervals. Steele doesn’t care much for this idea, and mainly chooses to ignore it. One way around these issues is to use a more nuanced system to notate accents. Usually such systems denote four levels of accentuation. These systems usually require the learning of more symbols and therefore are not commonly used. (Thomas Jefferson actually developed such a system using dots; so the issues have been around for a while.) I prefer typographically based notation such as is used in the poem and frequently at the Innerlea website because the scansion is embedded in the text itself, the eye doesn’t have to shift up to find some floating accent mark, instead the sense of accent is reflected in the weight or size or style of the text itself. I’m currently working on a three tiered system using html but haven’t had the time to sort it all out. Not that its any great technical feat, but just haven’t had the time. I think three distinct levels of accentuation should clarify a lot of these problems, but again, there will always be disagreements.

    My thinking is that scansion ought not be just an occasional exercise for the student. How much good does that really do? The amount of learning that can be had about prosody is surely much greater than what the average student is able or currently expected to do on his own. The exercise is onerous, yet made easier with copious examples. Thus accentual poetry ought to be regularly marked-up, typographically, for accent and presented to students, or anyone else with an interest. In a literature text book most or all of the poems should be mark-up so. Simply it conveys a lot of useful information and doesn’t really get in the way of the poem itself. It can easily be ignore. Yes it represents an addition to a piece of art that was not intended by the author, but it’s clear, in most cases, that the author wrote the poem with an ear for these accents, so why not show ’em?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed



%d bloggers like this: