Hart Crane: 'The Bridge' & Influence on Modernist Poetry

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  • 0:06 Hart Crane
  • 1:51 Style in 'The Bridge'
  • 2:39 Content of 'The Bridge'
  • 3:29 Response to 'The Waste Land'
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Hart Crane's poem 'The Bridge' changed poetry by showing how modernist forms could be used to express uplifting ideas. In this lesson, you will learn about Crane's influence on modernist poetry as well as 'The Bridge,' and then you'll test your knowledge with a quiz.

Hart Crane

Hart Crane was an influential modernist poet. Modernist poets abandoned traditional forms and themes. Instead, they often wrote without rhyme or meter; they used imagery related to cities instead of the country, and they took a more pessimistic view of life than the Romantic poets that came before them.

Like many of his contemporaries, Hart Crane abandoned traditional forms of poetry and experimented with rhyme and meter. And like other Modernist poets, Crane focused on imagery that related to society and cities instead of nature.

This Modernist focus on society that Crane and his friends were involved in made sense in the context of the time period. At the time, the Industrial Revolution meant that new technology was making life very different from the farmers' lives that were most common before the 20th century. In addition, cities were growing larger as more people moved from small towns to urban areas. So naturally, the poets writing at the time used imagery and ideas from these modern locations.

Because of the problems that faced people who lived in cities, such as crime, pollution, and overcrowding, the Modernist poets took on a negative view of the world. To them, the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution meant that the world was becoming a bad place.

But Hart Crane took a different view. Though Crane himself suffered from depression as he struggled to make ends meet in New York City, he thought that the advances in society were good. He saw hope as an important part of literature, and his poems took on the more optimistic view of traditional poetry. So, he is often referred to as a Modernist Romantic; that is, his style was Modernist, but his optimistic view was Romantic.

Style in The Bridge

Crane's most famous work is a book-length series of poems called The Bridge.

The Bridge consists of fifteen poems that together make up a long poem. When Crane wrote it, most poetry was either very long poetry, often called epic poetry, or it was shorter poetry that was often gathered together into collections. One type of shorter poetry is lyric poetry.

What made The Bridge unique was that the fifteen lyric poems also banded together to make one long epic poem. Even today, over seventy years after it was first published, many critics argue over whether it should be categorized as epic or lyric! In general, though, it's best to think of it as a new, hybrid type of poetry that's both epic and lyric.

Crane used the bridge to symbolize how advances in society could bring people together.
Content of The Bridge

Content of The Bridge

The Bridge is about modern society. The title refers to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, where Crane wrote the poem.

The Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol in the poem. It's a manmade structure, and at the time that Crane was writing, it was a relatively new structure. Other poets of the time saw manmade objects as representative of the downfall of society. To them, the technology of the day (bridges, telephones, cars, and other new breakthroughs) was breaking society apart and causing a rift between people.

But Crane uses the Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol for what manmade things can do: bring together - or bridge - the fractured aspects of society. Even as other poets wrote about how society's advances were tearing people apart, Crane points out that the same innovations could bring people together.

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