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