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To Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is that rarity of architecture that forgives even the worst of photographers: it’s difficult to take a bad picture of it. The bridge’s beauty is transcendental. Whatever angle you see it from, it lifts you to its vaults in the sky. I doubt the same could be said of Parisian bridges or even London’s eponymous one. On Sunday, a mean Nor’easter bashed into the city, sending newspaper photographers out looking for the telling shot. The Associated Press’s Peter Morgan shot the one above. Maybe it’s because I lived in the city for many years, and have been missing it since my parents left it, that pictures like this mean more to me: they’re a tug at something across that bridge and slightly to the north (we lived in Queens). But I suspect these pictures would have at least some of the same effect on someone who’s never been to New York, or lived in the United States for that matter. The meeting of mist and bridges has universal appeal.

“Every time one looks at the harbor and the NY skyline across the river it is quite different, and the range of atmospheric effects is endless,” Hart Crane, who lived in a Brooklyn Heights apartment, wrote in a 1924 letter to family back in Cleveland. “Look far to your left toward Staten Island and there is the Statue of Liberty, with that remarkable lamp of hers that makes her seen for miles. And up at the right Brooklyn Bridge, the most superb piece of construction in the modern world, I’m sure, with strings of light crossing it like glowing worms as the Ls and surface cars pass each other coming and going. It is particularly fine to feel the greatest city in the world from enough distance, as I do here, to see its larger proportions.”

Here’s Crane’s prelude to “The Bridge,” Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning.

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.

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