Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

River Song

(Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old
Theme, 1939
by Joseph Stella, 1877-1946,
Italian-born American Futurist painter)

Over the years, Joseph Stella made quite a few paintings of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was fascinated by the engineering masterpiece of steel-wire suspension spanning the East River. The bridge, he wrote, is “the shrine containing all the efforts of the new civilization of America.”

Built between 1869 and 1883, the bridge joined the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Some have likened this man-made icon to the Eiffel Tower. Stella, however, brings out the image of the cathedral, with suggestions of the stained glass windows, arches, and flying buttresses of the Gothic cathedral. In his view, the power of modern industry would replace the influence of the Church.

Inspired by the painting, a contemporary poet has written this poem:


Crossing late is best,
The bridge strung
over the water
like a huge harp.
Sun caught
in the black strings
forms one pure note —
falling as we rise,
reach out,
strain to hear
the perfect sound
that must be fading
just above our heads.

~ Warren Woessner, born 1944, American poet

Stella was not the only artist to gaze upon the bridge and be reminded of the towering medieval cathedral. The American poet Hart Crane (1899-1932) made use of words that echoed the sacred.


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.

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