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To Brooklyn Bridge

To Brooklyn Bridge


by Hart Crane

Stanza 5 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 17-18

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets

  • Now the speaker abruptly moves away from the bridge again.
  • He talks about a deranged person ("bedlamite") who comes from the subway and lives in some dirty little room or apartment in the city.
  • "Bedlam" is a generic name for a mental asylum. The real Bedlam was an asylum in London.
  • The bedlamite "scuttles" out of the subway like a crab – a pathetic image.
  • A scuttle is also a bucket for holding coal, and the subway is a dirty place that looks as if it were smeared with coal.
  • If you've ever tried finding an apartment in New York City, you know what the speaker means by "cell"!
  • The bedlamite runs ("speeds") to one of the towers ("parapets") that holds up the suspension cables.
  • "Parapets" are found on castles, so the speaker is implicitly comparing the bridge to a castle.
  • The bedlamite is standing at the top of the bridge.

Lines 19-20

Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

  • Oh no! What's he doing up there? The insane guy went up to the bridge to commit suicide.
  • He stands "tilting" at the edge of the bridge's tower, gathering the courage to jump.
  • His shirt "balloons" in the wind up there. The shirt is "shrill," or loud (this is not a literal image).
  • And then… he "falls" off the bridge.
  • We never learn the name or anything else about this poor suicide, he's just another anonymous soul in the big city.
  • He is described as a "jest," like a jester or joker, or maybe just a joke.
  • Jesters often traveled in royal "caravans" in medieval times. (Ever been to a Renaissance Fair?)
  • In this case, the "caravan" might refer to the traffic on the bridge, or the bridge itself, which looks like it carries a procession of souls.
  • This is not a social caravan, it's an anonymous and impersonal, "speechless."

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