Cutty Sark


Mariani says that Cutty Sark was Crane's favorite whiskey, as well as the name of an old ship.

Many couplets in the italicized sailor's song rhyme, and some in the non-italicized portion of the poem do too, or nearly do.


(numbers refer to lines of the poem)

1: South Street : South Street is by the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. It seems likely that the speaker here is Crane himself, or "the poet." Crane did live across the Brooklyn Bridge (line 58) on the Brooklyn side. On a quick read, I don't feel a pickup vibe between the narrator and the sailor, but Crane did date a sailor named Emil Opffer, and spent time in "seedy establishments on the waterfront, where he was frequently beaten and robbed" (Bloom p. 29).

12: "Stamboul Nights" : I could not find a song by this name, but the writer H. G. Dwight published a book of short stories called Stamboul Nights (which I think contained a story of the same name). I saw dates of publication for it ranging from 1916 to 1926, so I haven't nailed down the correct date, but the book was certainly contemporaneous with The Bridge. Stamboul is another name for the city of Istanbul, in modern Turkey.

12: weaving somebody's nickel : This phrasing is slightly unusual, implying that the nickel not only runs the player piano, but that the music is woven out of the nickel itself. I think this suits Crane's larger theme of the continuity of the human and artful past with the technological present. (Cf. lines 50-51.)

15: rum was Plato : could have a double meaning: "rum" as an adjective is British slang for "odd/queer" or for "difficult/dangerous."

16-17: the sailor is saying that the S.S. Ala, headquartered in Antwerp, is his ship, and that the poet needs to make sure the sailor leaves the bar at three so he can make it back before the ship leaves.

16: Antwerp : Antwerp is a city in Belgium.

29: Popocatepetl : a volcano.

37: spiracle : the blowhole of a whale.

38-39: my lungs-- / No--I can't live on land--! : If you group this line and a half together, the sailor might be saying that the reason he can't live on land anymore is because his lungs aren't adjusted to it. This strikes me as odd, because I always thought that it was their "land legs" that old sailors complained they couldn't get back. Not sure about that, though.

44: axletree : an axletree is a particular type of vehicular axle. So perhaps "dance the axletree" just means to spin around on an axis, and is another instance in this poem of a fusion of human artistic expression with the mechanical or technological.

47-48: floats burning in a gulf of tears / and sleep another thousand-- : the word that is cut off by the dash is surely "years." An allusion back to "Van Winkle," I'd think.

55: swinging summer entrances to cooler hells : I think the "swinging summer entrances" are the swinging doors of the bar? Is it too much, given the music that has been playing, to see a pun on "entrance," in the sense of "put in a trance"? "Cooler hells" is a pleasurable paradox (although in Dante's Inferno there is a level of hell that is icy).

56: putting the Statue of Liberty out : that is, extinguishing her torch, which is only lit at night.

59-85: Mariani believes (p. 283) that the poet, while walking home over the bridge, envisions ghosts of all the ships named here sailing beneath him. He gives no evidence for this reading, but it feels convincing to me.

Also, Crane wrote to his friends Malcolm and Peggy Cowley that all the ships mentioned had actually existed (Mariani p. 230).

67: skysails : a skysail is "the sail above the royal," whatever that means.

71: baronial white on lucky blue! : sounds heraldic, but maybe refers concretely to white sails against the blue sky (cf. "skysails," line 67).

72: this line sounds almost like a curse. Seems more fitting as a reference to the whiskey than to the ship.

75: eastings : an easting is a navigational term for progress made towards the east (in the sense that if you can't sail directly east, you may sail for ten miles, but only move seven miles east), or for a departure heading east.

76: Java Head : a cape on the Western tip of the island of Java, part of modern Indonesia.

77: freshened the nip / (sweet opium and tea!) : a nip is slang for a small drink of alcohol. And remember that Cutty Sark is a whiskey as well as a ship. So I think Crane is not only describing sailors who like to get high (and/or who trade in opium and tea), but also the figure of the poet, whose visions are fueled by substance use. (See my note to line 84.)

79: Buntlines tusseling : a buntline is a rope attached to a square sail that is used to pull the sail up for furling. So when the buntlines are tusseling, the ship has arrived.

82: you rivals two : From Lewis : "The Taeping and the Ariel were 'rivals two' in the great tea race of 1866 from Foochow to London. Ariel won by a margin of ten minutes, after a voyage of ninety-nine days. For this information, I am grateful to Mr. Jack Kligerman, a student of Professor Walter Sutton at Syracuse University" (p. 323).

84: Taeping : could this ship's name be a pun on "typing"? Ariel is a spirit who serves Prospero in Shakespeare's Tempest, broadly considered by some as a spirit of the air. So in the same way as the many ships sail far away and return home, the poet may go into a mystical headspace and try to write down and capture what he is able to see there, putting him in a sort of "rivalry" with the ineffable.




This page has been edited 9 times. The last modification was made by - MisterMartin MisterMartin on Mar 10, 2008 7:59 pm