To Brooklyn Bridge
by Hart Crane
Analysis: Form and Meter
Ode in Quatrains, Iambic Pentameter and Irregular Rhyme
O the Ode! Thee, the most Romantic of forms! Thee, from Ancient Greece derived! Thee…
Maybe we shouldn't try to write an ode to the ode: how about we just explain it. The ode is a form that originated in Ancient Greece. It was used in formal occasions like banquets to talk about things like heroes, gods, and battles. Odes were often sung to music on a harp. In the 19th century, the British Romantic poets became famous for taking up the ode form. Notable examples include Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" and Percy Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Both address their subjects using the second person ("you"), as Crane does with his slightly absurd-sounding "Thees" and "Thys." Odes are often songs of praise, and Crane praises the heck out of the Brooklyn Bridge. By the end he's all but bowing down and worshipping it. Crane wasn't British (he was American), but he is considered a Romantic modernist, and he was heavily influenced by folks like Shelley.
This ode has eleven stanzas. The stanzas are quatrains – four lines each. The meter is mostly iambic pentameter, that most common of meters in English poetry. An "iamb" is a short beat followed by a long beat (ba-DUM), and each line has five ("penta") iambs. Crane uses a pretty loose version of iambic pentameter, falling in and out of the rhythm. Here's one of the more regular lines, with the stressed syllables in bold and italics:
The sea|-gull's wings | shall dip | and pi-|vot him (line 2)
As for rhyme, it occurs here and there throughout the poem, but not with any regularity or pattern. Lines 7 and 8 rhyme "away" and "day," while lines 26 and 28 rhyme "bestow" and "show." Crane obviously didn't feel like he had to follow any particular form to the letter.
"To Brooklyn Bridge" is the first section of a longer poem, The Bridge. It has eight sections in all, and if you liked this one, you should try reading at least a couple of the others!