The Bridge Crane, Hart
The Bridge Crane, Hart
(Full name Harold Hart Crane) American poet and essayist.
Although he left only a small body of work, Crane is important as a lyric poet in the tradition of the romantic visionary as exemplified by such other poets as William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Baudelaire, and Walt Whitman. Crane's greatest contribution to this tradition is his epic poem The Bridge (1930), in which he attempted to delineate a mythic vision of the American experience through his primary symbol, the Brooklyn Bridge, an engineering marvel of the time that many people considered to represent the promise of America.
Born in Garrettsville, Ohio, Crane was the only child of a wealthy candy manufacturer. His mother had a history of mental illness, and in 1908, when she entered a sanatorium to recover from a nervous breakdown, Crane was sent to Cleveland to live with his maternal grandmother. There he enrolled in East High School in 1914, undertaking a program that emphasized English literature and composition, mathematics, and foreign languages. While his formal education was frequently disrupted by family conflicts and long vacations with relatives, Crane pursued a course of independent reading that included classic literature as well as contemporary avant-garde literary journals, and at this time he began writing poetry. After the separation of his parents in 1916, he moved to New York City, originally to study with a tutor to prepare for entrance into Columbia University. Instead, Crane wrote poems that were published in New York magazines during the next few years and worked in advertising and at various other jobs. Crane's first major poem, "The Marriage of Helen and Faustus," was published in 1923, and during this year he began work on The Bridge. In 1925 Crane was able to further pursue his literary endeavors as a result of a grant from Otto Kahn, a financier and patron of the arts. Crane's first collection of poetry, White Buildings, was published the following year, and he completed a substantial portion of The Bridge—an undertaking that was to preoccupy him for seven years—while living at his grandmother's plantation on the Isle of Pines near Cuba. Using an inheritance from his grandmother's estate, Crane traveled to Paris in 1929. There he met Harry and Caresse Crosby, the owners of the Black Sun Press, which published the first edition of The Bridge the following year. After Crane was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1931, he moved to Mexico City but produced little writing there that was to his satisfaction. Feeling alienated from friends and family and convinced his poetic abilities were waning, Crane began indulging in alcohol and homosexual exploits on a regular basis. In April of 1932, while returning to New York City on a ship, Crane jumped overboard after a night of heavy drinking, and his body was never recovered.
Crane originally conceived of The Bridge as a poem about equal in length to his "The Marriage of Helen and Faustus," and intended it to be published in his first volume of poetry. But, returning to it repeatedly over seven years, Crane gradually expanded the scope and themes of the poem until it grew to its final epic length. Written as a refutation of the pessimism he found in T. S. Eliot's epic modernist poem The Waste Land, The Bridge is intended to create an American mythology—in the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman—built around its central image, the Brooklyn Bridge. Organized into eight major sections-"Ave Maria," "Powhatan's Daughter," "Cutty Sark," "Cape Halteras," "Three Songs," "Quaker Hill," "The Tunnel," and "Atlantis"—as well as an opening "Proem" to the Brooklyn Bridge, the poem contains references to and meditations on historical and fictional figures significant to the founding and development of America, including Christopher Columbus, Pocahontas, the Wright brothers, and Rip Van Winkle. But despite Crane's hope of creating an epic vision for the country, The Bridge is ultimately considered to be the portrayal of a spiritualquest for a new mythic vision, and thus its major theme is the quest itself and the necessity for an intense examination of experience by every individual. Whether or not the quest succeeds in providing a new vision is of secondary importance. Joseph Miller wrote of The Bridge: "Brooklyn Bridge itself, the controlling symbol of the poem, with which it begins and ends, is at the same time a historical object, a work of art, a product of modern technology, and a perfect metaphor for the desire, the spiritual ambitions, and the unifying and reconciling aspirations of American idealism."
Upon publication, The Bridge was met with limited praise and much confusion from critics. While some commentators, especially those associated with the New Criticism movement, recognized noteworthy individual passages, most found the poem lacking in formal unity or logical exposition and deemed its symbolic structure incoherent and poorly executed. Others asserted that Crane's limited formal education resulted in social analysis and criticism that display a deficient knowledge of the American past. Since the 1960s, however, critics have reassessed the poem. While most agree that as an epic expression of American history and an affirmative myth of American experience the poem fails, many have argued that The Bridge succeeds admirably as the depiction of the spiritual quest in America and is a major achievement in many of its sections as well as an important contribution to American literature.
SOURCE: An introduction to The Bridge: A Poem by Hart Crane, Liveright, 1933, pp. xvii-xxxvi.
[In the following essay, Frank discusses the ways in which Crane represents the quintessential poet of modern America.]
Agrarian America had a common culture, which was both the fruit and the carrier of what I have called elsewhere "the great tradition" [The Re-discovery of America]. This tradition rose in the Mediterranean world with the will of Egypt, Israel and Greece, to recreate the individual and the group in the image of values called divine. The same will established Catholic Europe, and when it failed (producing nonetheless what came to be the national European cultures), the great tradition survived. It survived in the Europe of Renaissance, Reformation, Revolution. With the Puritans, it was formally transplanted to the North American seaboard. Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker, Jonathan Edwards; later, in a more narrow sense, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, carried on the great tradition, with the same tools, on the same intellectual and economic terms, that had been brought from Europe and that had failed in Europe. It was transplanted, it was not transfigured. But before the final defeat of its Puritan avatar—a defeat ensured by the disappearance of our agrarian economy, the great tradition had borne fruit in two general forms. The first was the ideological art of what...
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SOURCE: "The Structure of Hart Crane's The Bridge '," in the University of Kansas City Review, Vol. 24, March, 1958, pp. 225-38.
[In the following essay, Slote defends The Bridge against critical charges of lacking structure, noting in particular Crane's own assertion that the poem is symphonic in structure rather than adhering to a traditional narrative form.}
Because contemporary literature has offered few enough long poems, it is unfortunate that Hart Crane's The Bridge1 has been generally held unworthy as a whole, though poetically rich in texture. While many have believed in the poem, following the favorable tone of Malcolm Cowley's early review,2 critical judgments have been cut more generally from the whole cloth of the Tate-Winters "archetypal" pattern.3 Crane's long poem is ironically and somewhat sadly viewed as a shape without form, a bridge with uncertain connections, as chaos come again and lost Atlantis doubly lost. But there are signs that this both puzzling and brilliant poem is being reconsidered,4and in that spirit I should like to offer a skeleton design for a unified Bridge, a design on Crane's own terms.
From one position, and with one type of critical glass, The Bridge does certainly seem to be a series of unrelated poems in which disillusion makes a shambles of a hope brighter than its logic....
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SOURCE: "Hart Crane's Myth: The Brooklyn Bridge," in American Literature, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, March, 1967, pp. 75-86.
[In the following essay, Arpad attempts to "uncover the Platonic sources" for Crane's "myth of the Brooklyn Bridge. "]
One striking feature of Hart Crane's The Bridge is the poet's seemingly unorthodox conception of myth. Although several scholars have made known Crane's use of myth, they have not concerned themselves with exposing the poem as myth—an idea explicit in its dedicatory proem. Furthermore, although various critics have been successful in establishing Crane as a poet by equating his Platonic idealism with romantic mysticism, this approach has not proved precise enough to lend total coherence to the symbolism, the metaphysical imagery, and the structure of the poem, nor in particular, to explain the poet's use of the term myth.1 By emphasizing, however, Crane's Platonism—by opposing it to notions of romantic mysticism—one may gain this needed insight, and in so doing, add meaning to Crane's poetic principle "the logic of metaphor," establish a structure for The Bridge, and uncover the Platonic sources for his myth of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Although the Platonic implications of Crane's poetry have received due critical attention, the exact nature and extent of the Platonic influence has not been...
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SOURCE: "The Writing of 'The Bridge': 1923-1929," in The Broken Arc: A Study of Hart Crane, Oliver & Boyd, 1969, pp. 121-51.
[In the following essay, Butterfield attempts to account for the disunity within The Bridge by examining the circumstances surrounding its composition.]
I am perfectly sure that [The Bridge] will be
finished within a year.1 (Crane—Jul. 21, 1923)
The usual criticism of The Bridge is that, while many of the separate parts are of an astonishing power and beauty, the whole lacks order, unity, and coherence. In the last few years there have been several attempts to point out various principles of organisation, but by the majority of careful readers the poem is still regarded as disjunct. That The Bridge does contain serious internal contradictions seems indisputable. Some of these contradictions can, however, be accounted for by an exploration of the circumstances of its composition over a period of seven years. During this time Crane changed from the excited, confident adolescent who had just completed "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen" into the prematurely aged libertine who could hardly discipline himself to write the poem's final sections.
In February 1923 the idea had taken shape in Crane's mind of "a new longish poem under the title of The...
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SOURCE: "The 'Super Historical' Sense of Hart Crane's The Bridge," in Genre, Vol. XI, Winter, 1978, pp. 597-625.
[In the following essay, Rowe examines the "anti-poetic " nature of the primary symbol of the bridge.]
Art has the opposite effect to history; and only, perhaps, if history suffers transformation into a pure work of art, can it preserve instincts or arouse them. Such history would be quite against the analytical and inartistic tendencies of our time, and even be considered false. But the history that merely destroys without any impulse to construct will in the long run make its instruments tired of life; for such men destroy illusions, and "he who destroys illusions in himself and others is punished by the ultimate tyrant, Nature."
By the word "unhistorical" I mean the power, the art, of forgetting and of drawing a limited horizon round oneself. I call the power "super-historical" which turns the eyes from the process of becoming to that which gives existence an eternal and stable character—to art and religion.
—Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History (1874)
Even more explicitly than Williams' Paterson or Eliot's The Waste Land, Crane's The Bridge seems to establish its proper poetic site. Everything in the poem refers quite clearly to the "bridge" as the...
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SOURCE: "A Divided Self: The Poetic Responsibility of Hart Crane with Respect to 'The Bridge '," in Modernist Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1979, pp. 3-18.
[In the following essay, Schwartz explains the fragmentation of The Bridge by discussing the ways in which Crane's temperament and training were actually unsuitable to the writing of such a poem.]
I would like to consider the question of how Hart Crane came to think of himselfas the kind of poet who could undertake the composition of The Bridge By temperament, education, and heritage Crane was the worst equipped of poets to undertake an exhaustive meditation upon the nature of the modern with its implications of a maturing technological culture. Constitutionally unable to apprehend the world as a whole, he had no enthusiasm for cosmic poetic designs or programs. He was expressive not topical by nature. Yet he found himself gradually being cast (and casting himself) in the role of Walt Whitman's successor. How this came to happen remains an essential question for the reader of his enormous, fragmented poem. Considering this question will make us better able to appreciate the essential indecision of the poet, and it may help explain the vacillation between poetic and rhetoric in the poem itself. Largely because of the strength of its parts, The Bridge remains one of the most significant literary efforts thus far to come to terms with...
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SOURCE: "A Poetics for 'The Bridge '," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 26, No. 3, Fall, 1980, pp. 278-93.
[In the following essay, Ramsey argues that readers must have a clear idea of the poetics of The Bridge in order to appreciate Crane's genius.]
The criticism of Hart Crane's The Bridge has generally dealt out the opinion that Crane was, as James Russell Lowell called Shakespeare, "an inspired idiot." No one can be satisfied with the poem, but no one can let it alone either; no one (almost) can find the large truth in it that Crane claims to have attempted, and yet most readers find intermittent excellence, calling it with Allen Tate "a collection of lyrics, the best of which are not surpassed by anything in American literature."1 The designation of the poem as a failure rests on the imputation of a "myth" or "vision" structure for The Bridge, an idea abetted by Crane himself in several letters. The correspondence of this vision to Whitman's—again supported by letters—has been the subject of many studies and is generally felt to be fundamental. But whereas Whitman has succeeded, Crane has failed in his mythmaking—and this for a variety of reasons, it is argued, mostly structural (or personal).
I will not be able to answer all the critics as I make my way to my own subject—the punning in The Bridge—but a few facts, both internal...
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SOURCE: "Two Views of 'The Bridge '," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXXIX, No. 2, Spring, 1981, pp. 191-205.
[In the following essay, Cowley explains what he sees as two different ways to read The Bridge: "integrationists, " who assert that the poem has a unified plot and vision, and "dispersionists, " who believe that the poem is inherently and deliberately fragmented.]
Fifty years after the book was first published, little doubt remains that Hart Crane's The Bridge is a monument of American poetry. Among the longer poetic works I should place it below Whitman's "Song of Myself," but above almost everything else; and this is a judgment shared by many critics. The argument that continues to rage is about where its principal virtue lies. Should we reread it now as something unified, a special type of epic, or is it an aggregation of fifteen lyrics, most of them having a rather distant kinship with the others? Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts, or are a few of the parts greater than the whole?
In this argument the two opposing schools might be called the integrationists and the dispersionists. R.W.B. Lewis is an outstanding member of the first school. In The Poetry of Hart Crane he asserts that The Bridge has a unified plot, which is "the gradual permeation of an entire culture by the power of poetic vision." But is that a plot, strictly speaking,...
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SOURCE: "Theme and Free Variation: The Scoring of Hart Crane's 'The Bridge' ," in The Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 3, Autumn, 1981, pp. 197-213.
[In the following essay, Sharp considers The Bridge as a piece of modern music]
In a letter to Gorham Munson, Hart Crane wrote:
Modern music almost drives me crazy! I went to hear D'Indy's II Symphony last night and my hair stood on end at its revelations. To get those, and others of men like Strauss, Ravel, Scriabin, and Bloch into words, one needs to ransack the vocabularies of Shakespeare, Jonson, Webster (for theirs were the richest) and add on scientific, street and counter, and psychological terms, etc. Yet I claim such things can be done!11
The reference to Vincent d'Indy and "Modern music" is helpful as a starting point to the understanding of Crane's long poem The Bridge (1930). D'Indy was the influential director of Paris's Schola Cantorum, founded in 1894, whose "musico-mystical-aesthetic-regime" trained musicians in Gregorian chant and counterpoint.2 He was also the composer of the Istar Variations (1897), in which he modified the variation, as a restatement of a musical theme, by transferring the theme from its usual place at the beginning of a composition to the end. This innovation paved the way for composers like...
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SOURCE: "Cultural Revisions in the Twenties: Brooklyn Bridge as "Usable Past"," in The American Self: Myth, Ideology and Popular Culture, edited by Sam B. Girgus, University of New Mexico Press, 1981, pp. 58-75.
[In the following essay, Trachtenberg discusses The Bridge as a landmark of the 1920s cultural and aesthetic vision.]
Hart Crane's The Bridge (1930) has its origins in the twenties. As much autobiography as "myth of America," the poem belongs not only to the decade's syncopated tempos and aesthetic entrancements, but as well to its deep changes and conflicts. The poet's own life in these years of encroaching mechanization, standardization, and consumer capitalism, is the historical ground of the poem, a ground too rarely allowed more than passing notice in criticism. It is characteristic of our criticism that it knows less about history than it does about literary forms and influences, and knowing less about the ground of art, it inevitably knows less about the ideas that inform works of art, and the intrinsic powers that reside within them. We know that the twenties brought a renascence into American art, a flourishing of energies that had been launched in the previous decade. We know too little, however, of how those energies confronted new social and cultural formations, how they were shaped by struggles of artists to realize visions antithetical to their times, especially to the...
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SOURCE: "Toward a Poetics of Technology: Hart Crane and the American Sublime," in The Southern Review, Vol. 20, No. 1, January, 1984, pp. 68-81.
[In the following essay, Chaffin contends that The Bridge is most properly read as exemplary of representations of the sublime in American literature.]
To his critics, Hart Crane remains an inspired but troublesome poet—one whose reach, in the end, far exceeded his grasp. Particularly vexing to assayers of his poetic legacy has been The Bridge, Crane's intended magnum opus, which was published in 1930, two years before his suicide.
While critics have come to acknowledge the breadth and uneven brilliance of some of the poem's fine lyrical passages, they also generally lament it as one of the more hubristic acts of poetic enterprise in American literature. "Perhaps none in our time has failed more gloriously," says Hyatt Waggoner in a 1950 study. Even Crane's friend Allen Tate, who praises several sections of the poem, finally rejects the whole as incoherent. "The episodes of The Bridge," Tate writes in a 1930 essay mat remains the most incisive criticism of the poem, "follow out of no inherent necessity in the theme, for they are arbitrary, and appear not organically but analogously."
More recently, others have argued that criticism of The Bridge as a failed epic misses the point. In a recent...
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SOURCE: "The Bridge," in On the Modernist Long Poem, University of Iowa Press, pp. 47-67.
[In the following essay, Dickie discusses the problems Crane encountered in dealing with the form of the long modernist poem.]
It is hazardous to begin writing a long poem at the end, and all the more so with a long poem that will rely on the poet's moments of inspiration. Hart Crane's difficulties in writing The Bridge may be traced to this peculiar method of composition and to the assumptions about form that it embodies. Crane finished the final section of The Bridge first, and he called it "Atlantis." With that section completed, it was hard to begin the poem, harder still because Crane saw the ending as "symphonic in including the convergence of all the strands separately detailed in antecedent sections of the poem—Columbus, conquests of water, land, etc., Pokahantus, subways, offices, etc., etc." (LHC 232). To begin at the end, where Poe thought all works of art should begin, placed almost insurmountable restrictions on the unwritten long poem; and Crane's completion of "Atlantis," a poem on which he had been working for three years, brought his writing on The Bridge to a temporary halt. "Atlantis" was the ending for a beginning that Crane could not imagine, and when he recommenced work on the long poem again some months later, he wrote a poem that essentially recasts "Atlantis"—"To...
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SOURCE: "The Success of Failure: Hart Crane's Revisions of Whitman and Eliot in 'The Bridge '," in South Atlantic Review, Vol. 54, No. 1, January, 1989, pp. 55-70.
[In the following essay, Schultz considers the use Crane made of the works T. S. Eliot and Walt Whitman in writing The Bridge.]
Hart Crane composed The Bridge during the seven years between 1923 and 1930. His ambitions for the poem were enormous: it was to be nothing less than what he called, in letters to his patron otto Kahn, "a new cultural synthesis of values in terms of our America" (Letters 223) and "an epic of the modern consciousness" (308). The very scope of his ambition threatened the project with failure, and the last sections that Crane wrote, including "The Tunnel" (1926) and "Cape Hatteras" (1929), deal very directly with poetic ambition and failure.1 In a 20 June 1926 letter to Waldo Frank, Crane expressed the fear that he was deluding himself in finding links between the past and the future. He directed his most damning criticism, however, at the symbol of the bridge itself: "The bridge as a symbol today has no significance beyond an economical approach to shorter hours, quicker lunches, behaviorism and toothpicks" (261). Later in that letter he asserts bitterly, "A bridge will be written in some kind of style and form, at worst it will be something as good as advertising copy" (262). These harsh...
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SOURCE: ""The Bridge': "Too Impossible An Ambition?"" in Hart Crane: A Re-Introduction, University of Minnesota Press, 1989, pp. 83-109; 121-23.
[In the following essay, Berthoff uses other criticism and Crane's own correspondence to evaluate the success or failure of The Bridge.]
No one now pays much attention to Edgar Allan Poe's famous pronouncement, delivered in the apprehensive dawn of literary modernism, that given natural limits to human responsiveness there can be no such thing as a satisfactory long poem; only short compositions machined to produce a single affective impression can be admired straight through. Yet understanding Poe's peremptory rule for what it was, a one-sided, problem-solving response to the pre-modernist breakdown of classicalhumanist norms of use and value (and to the underlying redistribution of cultural authority), we may have to grant that something oddly like its model of performative excellence still thrives among us. Our newest academic criticism, grown aggressively skeptical and subtilizing in addressing literary texts, appears correspondingly uncertain in its dealings with the entirety of literary works. In the transactions of imaginative literature the first indeterminacy, the unreliability hardest to correct for—to apply terms now much in vogue—appear to be our own. Faced with work that merely by reason of length has to be talked about abstractly...
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SOURCE: "Back Home Again in India: Hart Crane's 'The Bridge '," in Romantic Revolutions: Criticism and Theory, edited by Kenneth R Johnson, Gilbert Chaitin, Karen Hanson, and Herbert Marks, Indiana University Press, 1990, pp. 269-96.
[In the following essay, Irwin focuses on the question of self and national origin in the "Indiana " section of The Bridge.]
Several years ago I published a book called American Hieroglyphics, that dealt with the influence of the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the literature of the American Renaissance and used this rather specialized area of inquiry as a means of raising larger questions about the figuration of the self and the search for origins in that form of late romanticism that is nineteenth-century American symbolism. It is this question of origins and their figuration, as posed in the writings of the American Renaissance, that I would like to pursue here into twentieth-century American poetry. One of the most common poetic figures in the English romantic tradition for the quest for origins (whether the origin of the self, of language, or of the human) is, of course, the search for the source of a river. In the wake of the publication of Sir James Bruce's Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1790), this figure for the pursuit of origins appears in works as various as Shelley's Alastor, Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," Book 6 of...
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SOURCE: ""Our Native Clay': Racial and Sexual Identity and the Making of Americans in 'The Bridge '," in American Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 1, March, 1992, pp. 24-50.
[In the following essay, Gardner discusses Crane's notion of racial and sexual identity in The Bridge.]
Being a naïve European, I could not help remarking to my American companion: "I really had no idea there was such an amazing amount of Indian blood in your people."
"What!" said he. "Indian blood? I bet there is not one drop of it in this whole crowd. . . . "
I know the mother nations of North America pretty well, but if I relied solely on the theory of heredity, I should be completely at a loss to explain how the Americans descending from European stock have arrived at their striking peculiarities.
—Carl Jung, "Your Negroid and Indian Behavior" (1930)1
In his letters, Hart Crane consistently aligned The Bridge (1930) with the cultural project of defining America's identity in the 1920s. From his earliest theorizing on his poem in 1923, Crane imagined its focus in these terms: "The initial impulses of "our people' will have to be gathered up toward the climax of the bridge, symbol of our constructive future, our unique identity."2 Although he offered notoriously conflicting assertions...
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Brunner, Edward. Splendid Failure: Hart Crane and the Making of "The Bridge. " Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985, 282 p.
Comprehensive analysis of The Bridge, encompassing the evolution of Crane's writing, an overview of critical response, and an examination of the poem itself.
Buelens, Gert. "The American Poet and His City: Crane, Williams, and Olson; Perceptions of Reality in American Poetry (1930-1960)." English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 73, No. 3 (June 1992): 248-63.
Includes Crane's The Bridge in a study of "urban poetry" in which the image of the city represents the poet's worldview.
Dembo, L. S. Hart Crane's Sanskrit Charge: A Study of "The Bridge." Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1960, 137 p.
Attempts to analyze The Bridge as a poem "out of keeping with the iconoclastic temper of the twenties," in which Crane tries to clarify and delineate his own conflicted feelings about himself and his world.
Franciosi, Robert. "Hart Crane, Lola Ridge, and Charles Reznikoff: A Note on the Early Conception of The Bridge." Essays in Literature XI, No. 2 (Fall 1984): 305-11.
Discusses the influence of other poets on Crane's writing of The Bridge.
Giles, Paul. Hart Crane:...
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