Brooklyn Bridge

A bridge tower complete with the wrapped wire cables invented by John Roebling

Hart Crane wrote the best tribute to the world’s greatest bridge that I know of:

To Brooklyn Bridge

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–

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
–Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

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;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,–
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

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.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,–

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path–condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

I read somewhere years ago that Crane wrote this while living, unbeknownst to Hart, in the same apartment wherein Washington Roebling, chief bridge engineer and son of John, the designer of the bridge, lived out his final, painful days suffering from the bends that struck him while he dived under water to check pilings progress. Suffering there he watched the crew continue work on what was becoming the largest suspension bridge in the world and the tallest structure in New York at that time. Finally Washington Roebling watched as Grover Cleveland, Chester Arthur and many of the Citizens of New York opened the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge opened in 1883.

Washington’s father, John died from tetanus in 1869, two years after starting work on the bridge, after sustaining an injury that crushed his toes on one foot.

Last weekend I walked across the bridge and back with my daughter Robin. She was visiting Brooklyn to accompany her boy friend to a crossword puzzle conference and had some time to spend with me. It was a pleasure to be with her — so bright and smart, beautiful and uplifting — like the day we shared.

We had a wonderful day. In fact my weekend was one to remember. Friday I took the train to Manhattan and then the subway to Brooklyn. I felt capable and proud to navigate Penn Station at 6 pm on a Friday – my old New York instincts kicked in and I had a good trip reading on the train and people watching the whole time (an old hobby).

On Friday evening, after checking into the Comfort In Brooklyn Bridge (it actually in South Brooklyn) I took a cab to the Williamsburg section and had dinner at the Like the Spice gallery – Marisa Sage’s fine art gallery, appropriately located on Roebling street. (http://likethespice.com/) I met some great folks there and enjoyed a wonderful meal catered by Scottadito Osteria Toscana, an Italian restaurant in Park Slope on Union Street, described as ‘rustic, traditional Italian.’ Can’t say anything about the atmosphere, but the food on Friday was superb – fresh, natural without that over spiced restaurant taste and after taste (they use natural and organic ingredients when ever possible).

The two artists currently featured at the gallery spoke: Rachel Beach and Nora Hertling. Both were elegant and articulate describing their excellent and intriguing work without pretense in a way that I found engrossing. I learned something about the aesthetics  for a fine artist. The work is so particular — its about a small detail in life — not big questions or observations but small ones honed to perfection. Lovely people and lovely pieces!

The hospitality provided by Marisa, her father (who was a delight to talk to) and the other guests put me at ease and provided the cushion needed for a most fine evening!

But spending the day with Robin was the real highlight of the weekend. We took in the promenade in Brooklyn Heights overlooking downtown Manhattan and the bridge. We visited The River Café (one of the best) and Robin made reservations for Sunday night (don’t know if she had dinner there – a jacket is required Sunday evenings and Jim did not have one with – question was – Macy’s or no).

Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building from the promenade

Next we started across the bridge. Now the weather forecast was for snow and or rain. So we thought the Brooklyn Museum would be a better bet. But once we started out it was clear that it was clear – and bright, sunny with a gusty wind that ‘made our hearts a dancer.’

Empire from Brooklun Bridge

The Empire State Building from the Brooklyn Bridge

Wedding couple, colorful photographer, cyclists sweeping over, crews of friends photographing each other, gulls winging and the city stretched out before us and all the while the bridge reminded us that New York is a fine old city ans seaport (being on the bridge is like being on a sailing ship).

Colorful PhotographerWedding Couple

Some folks enjoying the bridge as we passed by (no that’s not Robin)

On the promenade we were reminded of 9/11 and the missing towers. But the bridge beckoned with promises that what made New York and Brooklyn special was still alive. The bridge, the Woolworth Building and the entire sweeping vista represented a New York in its heyday so our hearts were uplifted.

Somehow this was like a homecoming for me. To be with a beloved daughter in the city of my birth (was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1943) on a beautiful pre-spring day did make my heart a dancer. It’s a weekend I’ll long remember.

Thank you daughter. Thank you bridge. May you both enjoy many years of life and love.

(Then on Sunday, Aurora and I joined the First Parish Church of Westford Massachusetts in a ceremony that touched us both. This was a bridge crossing of another kind, one that I will write about later on, making the weekend one of trips and crossings from start to finish. For me this joining includes become a Unitarian or at least moving in that direction. I don’t know exactly where this will lead but the trip so far has been a delight…..(many thanks to Reverend Cindy and all the new friends we have made at First Parish Church United.)

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