Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The book-length poem The Bridge far surpasses in scope anything else Crane attempted. In “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,” he had indicated how the energies of ancient mythic symbols still exist in modern times. In this larger work, he attempts to explain how primary American myths are embedded in current consciousness and, further, how these myths are basically emancipatory, pointing the United States to a future of ethnic harmony and a valuing of artistic achievement.
One thing that spurred Crane to the creation of this work was his reading of Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). In looking at the work, Crane was both awed by Eliot’s technical mastery and irritated by his hopelessness. Eliot, too, drew on mythology to create his work, turning to agrarian cultures for his theme. In those cultures, there was often a myth of a king or hero who died in the autumn but who was reborn in spring with the new crops. Eliot, as his title suggests, stopped the unfolding of this story halfway, depicting modern society as one that had lost all of its legitimate authorities and was stuck in a winter without hope of resurrection.
A look at the manner in which Crane treated the story of Rip Van Winkle in the second part of his poem will indicate his contrasted approach. The folktale is presented in a way that is both wittily irreverent and personal. It is not called up in a portentous meditation but by recalling how it first was...
(The entire section is 1188 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A serious student of poetry during the 1920’s, Hart Crane saw himself as one whose poetry would celebrate rather than denigrate the modern experience. His was to be a poetry of hope in the future and in the poet’s ability to transcend shortcomings. He sought to counteract the cultural despair that was typified, particularly, in T. S. Eliot’s influential The Waste Land (1922), a poem that Crane described as “good, but so damned dead.”
Crane consciously intended The Bridge to provide an antidote to the spiritual despair of modern life by holding up to its readers, as the emblem of the modern world’s own inspiriting accomplishments, John Augustus Roebling’s great technical achievement, the Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1883. Crane had first essayed the long poem form in the three-part “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen” (1923), which utilizes jazz rhythms and a wide range of classical, biblical, and historical allusions in its exhortation to his contemporaries to “unbind our throats of fear and pity.”
The initial idea for The Bridge was the direct result of Crane’s insight that the contemporary world was the product, and therefore more likely the fulfillment rather than the negation, of the world’s previous effort toward understanding. By 1924, Crane had, for inspiration, taken up residence in the same Columbia Heights apartment that Roebling had occupied during the bridge’s...
(The entire section is 1470 words.)