Giles, Paul. HART CRANE: THE CONTEXTS OF THE BRIDGE . Cambridge University Press, 1986.
276 pp. $37.50.
For many readers Hart Crane's The Bridge has retained a privacy of vision unmatched by its antagonist. The Waste Land , a self-referential opaqueness that sends sympathetic critics to generalized assertions of its Whitmanesque updating. Mostly criticized when first published, the poem is still more often respected than admired. In this study Giles converts the poem's borderline madness into a play of language analogous to that of Finnegans Wake.
It is Giles's argument that the pun is the structural principle of The Bridge, a pervasive disruption that forces conflicting views as mythic affirmation is undercut by subversive word play. Capitalist visions topple into Surrealist humour; Freudian ambiguity and Joycean games control the romantic quest; and Whitehead's relativity balances the harmony of a visionary future. Crane's interest in Dada and transition's “Revolution of the Word” like his enjoyment of parody and paradox generally, led to the pun as the perfect vehicle for ambiguity.
Commentators previously have called attention to the poem's puns: the "nomad raillery" of Crane's hobos surely points to both bantering and occupation. Giles adds literally dozens more. Some, such as the gloss of “How many dawns" as "Harmony dawns," are likely to gain wide assent. Others, such as the reading of " Pullman breakfasters" as men pulled by the railroad until their individuality, their standing fast" is broken down, are likely to seem simply tortured.
The importance of the book does not, however, rest with the success of individual puns. Giles has focused on the linguistic: habits of the poem an impressive scholarship that provides a useful context, personal and cultural, for the ambiguities of word and syntax. This, one comes to feel, is the way Crane's mind must have worked.
Paul R Jackson
1986 ANNUAL REVIEW, Journal of Modern Literature, 14:2/3 (1987:Fall-1988:Winter) pp.308-309
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