Though they are often accused of being prideful, Americans in fact often forget the wondrous scale of some of their major accomplishments, such as the Panama Canal, for instance, or the moon landing, or, more recently, the Space Shuttle. The same holds true for the Brooklyn Bridge, which was the engineering marvel of its day.
Washington Roebling died on 21 July 1926. He and his father John Augustus Roebling had designed the Brooklyn Bridge, but his father’s untimely death forced Washington to superintend its construction. Unfortunately, an on-site accident left him paralyzed, but with the help of his wife, Emily, he managed to communicate instructions to his foremen until the bridge was finished.
Hart Crane, an American poet born on 21 July 1899, found himself staring at Brooklyn Bridge from his apartment window, and he decided to write a poem based on it that would somehow capture the optimistic “can do” nature of the American spirit. The epic he eventually produced is “The Bridge,” and its emotional heart is a section appropriately titled “To Brooklyn Bridge,” which contains these soul-lifting lines:
“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.”
It is a fitting testament to America, and to American character, that men with such different sensibilities nonetheless shared a profound love for beauty – especially as it is expressed in elegant form. And though we might sometimes take those particular forms, and our own creative capacities, for granted, the wonder that is the Brooklyn Bridge and the dream that it inspired in one of our poets affirm alike something very good about our nation.
“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.”