Atlantis


Mariani (p. 196) suggests that "Atlantis" imitates the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge itself: the first six stanzas rise up as if they were the cables rising up to reach the first stanchion of the bridge, then there is a lull, then another rise as if to the second stanchion, and then a final fall.


(numbers refer to lines of the poem)

title: Atlantis, a mythical lost island that supposedly sank into the ocean in a single day, was first mentioned by Plato in his dialogs. (It is widely believed that Plato was under no delusion that Atlantis had been real, but was simply using it as a literary device.)

According to Nilsen (p. 161), in 1926 Crane read a book by Lewis Spence called Atlantis in America. (A 2002 reprint is available on Amazon.com.) The book holds that Atlantis was a continent that had once existed between Europe and America. Nilsen suspects that this is what prompted Crane to give the title to "Atlantis," and that the significance was that Spence believed that settlers from Atlantis had migrated both to the New World and to the Old as Atlantis disintegrated (taking more than a day in this version, surely), so there was a primal link (or a bridge, as it were) between the two worlds.

I cannot find a definitive etymology for "Atlantis," though it certainly seems it might be related to the Atlantic Ocean, which takes its name from the Atlas Mountains of Northwest Africa, which in turn take their name from Atlas, the Greek titan who held the world on his shoulders. (An atlas of maps takes its name from Atlas, who was often pictured with the world on his shoulders on their covers.)

epigraph: from Plato's Symposium. It is in English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley's translation, as published in an 1840 book called Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, which is available free on Google Books here.

7: Sibylline : the sibyls were ancient prophetesses or fortune-tellers.

17: carrier bars : vertical bars which help support the Brooklyn Bridge.

18: twin monoliths : the two granite towers at the center of the bridge. It is not strictly a contradiction to speak of "twin monoliths," but it dances near it. Whether this is a poor choice or an intentional one I don't know.

24: palladium : this is a chemical element, silvery-white and metallic, used in technological manufacture. (There is an earlier sense, spelled with a capital "P," of a statue of Pallas that was supposed to keep Troy safe from harm, but I think it's the chemical sense that's intended.)

33-40: Mariani believes that this stanza in part describes airplanes aloft above (he cites the phrase "wrapping harness" in particular). I can't see this yet.

34: Tyre : a Phoenician city.

36: aeon : a tremendously long length of time. (In modern geology, where it is usually spelled "eon," it has the specific meaning of a billion years.)

40: Aeolus : the god of winds. Jason's (line 37) ship, the Argo, is in trouble here.

Lewis (p. 368) suggests that Crane seems to be revising a part of the legend about winds driving the ship all the way to Libya, so that the ship is actually destroyed ("splintered").

Nilsen (p. 169) holds that the "straits" are the Symplegades, the rocks protecting Bosporus that crushed all ships that passed between them. In the legend, the Argo made it through safely, but its stern ornament was "splintered" by the rocks. (Nilsen does not seem to think that there is necessarily any wind at all, and feels that Aeolus is invoked for other allusive reasons.)

There is also undoubtedly a reference to the Aeolian harp much loved by the British Romantic poets. The wind plays the cables of the bridge just as it might play the strings of an Aeolian harp (see line 56, for example).

42: Tall Vision-of-the-Voyage : the bridge.

43: cycloramic : see definition.

56: vernal : related to spring (e.g., the vernal equinox).

56: strophe : see definition. Roughly, a unit of poetry (similar to a stanza), which meaning derives from the one probably intended here, a section of a Greek choral ode (sung by the chorus during a Greek tragedy).

57: Thou steeled Cognizance : the bridge.

59: encinctured : a cincture is a band of fabric around the waist that strengthens an article of clothing, so this means "encircled by" or "cinched by."

69: escarpments : steep slopes.

74: canticle : a song, in particular a liturgical song from the Bible.

75: wrapt : an old-fashioned form of "wrapped." Surely also a pun on "rapt."

75: beatitude : a state of utter bliss, or one of Jesus's statements in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11).

85: Anemone : most readers think this refers to the wood anemone, a pure white flower (see "whitest Flower" in line 84). Jack Wolf believes it refers to the eight-petaled red anemone, for reasons he details on p. 151 of his book Hart Crane's Harp of Evil. Is a reference to the sea anemone, a small underwater animal, also intended, since Atlantis is an underwater realm?

90: ensanguined : made bloody or blood-colored.

92: Sidereal : relating to stars or constellations.

92: phalanxes : one meaning is more interesting than the next here. Usually a body of Greek infantry, but also (with a plural spelled differently) the bones of a vertebrate's hand or foot, or a mass of people, animals, or things generally.

The simplest reading for "sidereal phalanxes" here is "bunches of stars" or "constellations."

96: antiphonal : for "antiphony" Merriam-Webster has "responsive alternation between two groups especially of singers."



This page has been edited 8 times. The last modification was made by - MisterMartin MisterMartin on Mar 11, 2008 7:48 pm