Study Guide

To Brooklyn Bridge Identity

By Hart Crane


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; (lines 9-12)

The idea of prophecy is important to the poem. The cinemas "foretell" a scene where something is not ultimately "disclosed," while the bridge is like a prophecy revealed. The cinemas are portrayed negatively, while the bridge, as we know, gets fawned over like one of Paris Hilton's little dogs. But both the movies and the bridge make people feel anonymous – part of the masses – in their presence.

Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan. (lines 19-20)

Crane suggests how in the city we often observe people from a safe distance, like this person standing on one of the towers of the bridge. We don't have any details such as a face or a name to match with the "bedlamite." He is regarded simply as one rather insignificant part (a jester) of a large caravan.

Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show. (lines 26-28)

The bridge makes us feel small, but another way to put it – more positively – is to say that it praises our anonymity. Isn't that kind of a backhanded compliment? "Nobody knows who you are – but that's great! Good for you!" One aspect of living in a democracy is that one person is not supposed to be considered superior to another, so everyone is more or less a face in the crowd.

Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,-- (lines 31-32)

The speaker identifies with the marginal figures in society, like prophets, pariahs, and anguished lovers. These are the people who can appreciate the spiritual dimensions of the bridge, rather than seeing it merely as a means of getting from one place to another.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear. (lines 37-38)

Here the speaker is positioned quite literally in the margins of New York – under the shadow of the bridge. His "waiting" might be a reference to his homosexuality, as we explained in the "Line-by-Line Summary." His identity is in the shadow, as if he were trying to stay hidden, to avoid revealing himself. Line 38 is a paradox that expresses the advantages of being hidden, "in the dark."

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