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— (lines 1-4)
The only thing that could make this scene a more inspiring vision of
America's greatest city would be if the seagull were a bald eagle
holding an American flag in its claws as fireworks went off in the
background... You can see the whole of New York City in your mind, with
the Statue of Liberty standing proud, even though these things are not
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene (lines 9-10)
After the grandeur of the opening image, this depiction of crowds of
people creepily "bent" toward a flashing movie screen is a stark change
of direction. The word "sleights" suggests that the American
entertainment experience is built around trickery and even deception.
But at least the popcorn's good….
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,-- Implicitly thy freedom staying thee! (lines 15-16)
A paradox: the bridge is a symbol of freedom and movement even though it
doesn't go anywhere. It seems to be mid-step between two shores, always
active and alive. The vibrancy of American commerce and engineering
prowess is evident in these lines.
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. (lines 21-24)
Wall Street is shown as a dark place where light is crowded out by tall
buildings except for a jagged shaft of light like burning flammable gas.
We'd say this might be a negative portrayal of our financial center,
but it sounds kinda cool. Crane seems more interested in the appearance
of the city than with what goes on inside it.
O Sleepless as the river under thee, Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod, (lines 41-42)
The poem mostly focuses on New York, except here at the very end. The
river takes an imaginative leap over both the ocean and the prairies of
the heartland. One critic thinks that "the prairies' dreaming sod"
refers to the speaker of the poem. "Sod" could be short for "sodomite"
(a disparaging term for a gay person); Crane was both gay and from the
Midwest, where there are prairies.