Study Guide

To Brooklyn Bridge Spirituality

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Crane fits in with a whole category of people who are described as "spiritual but not religious." His spirituality seems roughly in line with the twin 19th century currents of British Romanticism and American Transcendentalism. He thinks the old religions have passed their prime; their myths have become faded and ill-equipped to deal with modern life. In "To Brooklyn Bridge" (and the larger poem containing it, The Bridge) he tries to build up a new mythology that's largely centered around urban life and the American city. Think of Simon and Garfunkel's classic lyric: "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls." That's an idea similar to what Crane is proposing here. Not surprisingly, The Bridge was an inspiration to the Beat writers, who shared a sense of deep spirituality and a distrust of traditional institutions like churches and synagogues. You might compare "To Brooklyn Bridge" with Allen Ginsburg's famous poem Howl, also about life in New York City.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. How does Crane describe the bridge as a religious object? Do you think he succeeds in giving the bridge such an inflated significance?
  2. Why does he hope the bridge will "lend a myth to God"? What does this line tell us about how Crane views both myth and the traditional concept of God?
  3. What is the difference, if any, between art and religion in Crane's poem? How are the two "fused"?
  4. If the bridge is really an "altar," then what exactly would someone worship there?

Chew on This

Crane's choice of the bridge as a quasi-religious symbol is arbitrary and really reflects his casting about for something in the world to replace the void left by religion.

"To Brooklyn Bridge" expresses the modernist idea that art and religion are one and the same.

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