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The Cries of Cassandra consists of a reading with slides of Hart Crane’s "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge" followed by a slide choreography of Dinu Ghezzo’s Eyes of Cassandra.

Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy and sister of the valiant Hector, was one of humanity’s rare visionaries. Sensing the tragedy that was to befall her beloved city at the hands of the Greeks, she tried to warn everyone but was disparaged and disbelieved at every turn, and lived to endure captivity and an ignoble death.

In "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge," the "I" or persona, an alter ego of Hart Crane, portrays himself as a commentator on the human condition and an ardent visionary of the future. As such, Crane was one of the Cassandras of his age, a failed savant who lived amidst the excesses of the Twenties, culminating in the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, and died a suicide. Dinu Ghezzo, in his Eyes of Cassandra, provides rare glimpses of Cassandra in her career as visionary, and the work is thus fittingly titled. As with Black on Black /13, the images for the poem—notably, gulls, the Brooklyn Bridge, Hart Crane—provided a visual context or jumping-off point for my creation of the images for the music.

The combined work, consisting of my reading of the poem and of the music from the CD titled The Eyes of Cassandra (Capstone Records-CPS-8658), both with color slides by me, was first presented at The Kitchen in the spring of 1998 as part of that year’s Field Day sponsored by The Field. A second performance took place in the fall of 1998 at New York University’s Black Box Theater on a program of works composed by faculty and students of the Music Department of New York University’s Steinhard School of Education.

For this web version of the work, I created the visuals afresh and redid their sequencing, both with respect to the poem and to the music. The performers are the same: I read the poem; the live performance of the music was by Roger Heaton, clarinets, and Corrado Canonici, contrabass. The poem was recorded in New York City early in 1998, the music at the Teatro di Villa Patrizi in Naples, Italy, on March 11, 1997.


The Poem

Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
—Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

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.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.


"Proem: to Brooklyn Bridge" was written in July 1926 during a sojourn at the Crane family vacation cottage on the Isle of Pines off the coast of Cuba. Crane is said to have sent a copy to Marianne Moore at The Dial, and she included it in the June 1930 edition of that periodical. Later that year the poem appeared, in italics, as the introduction to The Bridge, Crane’s second and last book of verse.


Main Outline of
"Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge":
Shifting Points of View

The word "To" in "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge" makes the title ambiguous. Obviously, "To" is a directional marker, indicating the geographical scope of the poem from the outer limits of New York harbor eastward to the bridge in all its aspects, including aesthetic and spiritual. But as part of the title to the introduction to The Bridge, a collection, "To" can also be construed as a dedicatory marker.

The opening words of the first stanza—"How many"— likewise lead to ambiguity. Normally, one would use "how many" to begin a question, e.g., How many miles is it to London? If "How many" is read in that way, the sense of the lines would be, How many times will the seagull traverse the harbor as it does, with its wings "dipping and pivoting?" But "how many" can also be used to introduce an exclamation, and in that case the first stanza can be read as an expression of wonder. Another possibility is that Crane intended the phrase to be read in both ways at the same time—as a wondering question.

The first and second stanzas constitute a unit, spanning the seagull’s flight at dawn to the end of a work day, presumably in downtown Manhattan, when people leave their offices via elevators. That these two stanzas are to be considered as a unit is made clear by the couplet "away"/ "day," which is the first pair of pure end-rhymes in the poem. Appearing at the conclusion of the second stanza, this couplet acts as a punctuation device, announcing that this part of the poem is over.

The seagull’s flight begins at dawn, and its destination is the Statue of Liberty, which it reaches via the "chained bay waters." This probably refers to the shores of New Jersey and Staten Island, which are close to one another but were not connected in the 1930s and so constituted a figurative chain or outer limit to the bay. But possibly Crane was referring to the chains that were strung across the waters of New York Harbor during World War I to prevent German submarines from sneaking in unawares and attacking the ships docked there. In its coming and going, the seagull represents unfettered natural life and is symbolic of the creative spirit in man.

In the second stanza, the seagull curves away from view, which Crane likens to an all-too familiar scene from the world of getting and spending—"as apparitional as sails that cross some page of figures to be filed away;/—Till elevators drop us from our day." The first unit of the poem thus begins in light and ends in a kind of darkness. As we shall see, the finale to the second unit begins in darkness and ends in a kind of light.

Throughout the first two stanzas, the seagull is being observed by "us." As of the third stanza, where the second unit of the poem begins, a new character, the "I," appears as observer. In the final two stanzas of the second unit, "we" and "us" are referred to again in connection with the "I."

Most importantly, in this second part of the poem, the point of view of the "I" figuratively takes on the characteristics of a seagull—indeed, in its own way dipping, pivoting, making rings, climbing, curving, and finally disappearing from view. The organization of the rest of the poem derives from the comings and goings and ups and downs of this I-as-gull.

The first appearance of the "I," in the third stanza, is as a thinker, which, as Crane surely would have opined, was not on as high a plane as an artist and creator. The phrase "I think," coming as it does at the beginning of the stanza, seems to function as an equivalent of a casual connective like "which reminds me," and the frame of reference is the end of the work day in the second stanza. The third stanza’s setting is a theater where an audience is sitting in utter darkness before a screen. The sense seems to be that just as the individuals poring over statistics in offices daydream of escapes in sailboats, so the masses go to find the same solace at the movies—go and never really find it.

The stage is now set for the appearance of the bridge in the next stanza, which begins with the biblical and childlike connective "And." Addressed as "thee," the bridge stands in contrastingly bright sunlight, meaning that it was in all likelihood viewed eastward from the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. An artifact of civilization, the bridge is yet "silver-paced" and strides; that is, in the eyes of the "I," it is a colossus and god-like.

In the next stanza ("Out of some subway"), the point of view shifts yet once more—to a vignette of the bridge as a tragic stage. Onto it, a lunatic rushes and stands poised, intent on jumping before the eyes of a gaping, joking crowd (anticipating Crane’s own leap to death in water not many years hence). As on a real theatrical stage of tragic dimensions, the players are neither good nor evil but partake of both and are intent only on working out their destinies within the context of their play.

Other artifacts of civilization appear in the stanza that follows ("Down Wall"): a cityscape with Lower Manhattan office buildings, through which the sun filters like "a rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene," and "cloud-flown derricks." In the distance is a prospect of the bridge—its cables—and beyond, the pure, utterly free North Atlantic. Reminding one of a Renaissance painting, the scene is as starkly beautiful as the diction and phrasing paint it.

A new or renewed address to the bridge follows in a stanza beginning with "And" again. Here the bridge is referred to as "Thou," with the addition of heraldic terms, and it is said to be a pardoner and a repriever in what seems to be a religious context.

In the eighth stanza (beginning with "O"), the "I" experiences a moment of pure vision in which the bridge becomes a harp and an altar, and its strings are "choiring." This stanza is one long string of praises and ends as if breathlessly, with a dash.

Now, in the last three stanzas, comes the finale. Traffic lights move along the bridge; in the darkness, it seems Pietá-like: "And we have seen night lifted in thine arms." Then the bridge appears as a shadow under which the "I," as if on the prowl for a sexual encounter, has been waiting, and a scene of total desolation follows—a dark night of the soul. The sky is totally without light, and long gone are the halcyon days of the first and fourth stanzas: "Already snow submerges an iron year."

In the final stanza, which begins with "O"—indeed, just as the ecstatic eighth stanza did—the "I" utters a prayer to "thee" (the bridge) in behalf of "us"—that its spirit sometime sweep down to us, indeed like the free-wheeling, curving gull, and serve as a symbol of unity and wholeness.


Toward a Prosody of the Poem

Crane preferred to write his poetry in stanzas, these consisting of three to six lines. Roughly a quarter of his poems are in four-line units or quatrains, and most of these quatrains are in iambic pentameter, a handful in iambic tetrameter.

Many of the stanzaic poems are rhymed. Very much in keeping with the late nineteenth-early twentieth century, Crane tended to be very sparing in his use of complete rhymes and often opted for partial rhymes, especially assonance and consonance, and like Lincoln at the beginning of the Gettsyburg Address, he knew how to use alliteration to considerable effect.

Crane’s quatrains in iambic pentameter are sometimes in couplets (aabb), but more often than not are alternately end-rhymed (abab). In some of the latter cases, only the ends of two of the alternate lines are rhymed, and more often than not, these are the second and fourth lines. Occasionally, he inserted a couplet into a poem consisting of alternately rhymed quatrains.

The alternately rhymed iambic pentameter quatrain has a long tradition in England and the United States, made famous by Thomas Gray’s "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard" (1751). Composed on the occasion of the death of Gray’s friend Richard West, it has long been cherished as a celebration of the common man. Surely every American child of Crane’s generation would have read the poem in school, and it is hard to believe that he did not. Indeed, at times, in his poems in alternately rhyming iambic pentameter quatrains, the tone is unmistakably there. Consider, for instance, the opening of the "Elegy":

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day;
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea;
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

and the final stanza of "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge":

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

Contributing to the tones in both are the many instances of r and l and other unvoiced consonants (h, p, s, c).

It has recently come to light that Thomas Gray and Richard West were lovers. Possibly Crane, a homosexual himself, surmised this, either consciously or subconsciously, and for that reason became particularly enamored of this stanzaic form.

Turning now to "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge," one finds that in the line endings of every stanza but the eighth ("Oh harp and altar," etc.), there is some form of sound correspondence, be it ever so tenuous. In third, fifth, and seventh stanzas, there are two pairs of alternate rhymes ("sleights"/ "scene"/"again"/screen"; "loft"/ "parapets"/"ballooning"/ Caravan"; "Jews"/ "bestow"/ "raise"/ "show"). In five other stanzas (the first, fourth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh), there is one pair of alternate rhymes, and all but one of these ("paced"/ "stride) in the fourth stanza) involve the ends of the second and fourth lines ("him" /Liberty"; "stars"/ "arms"; "clear"/ "year"; "sod"/ "God").

Couplets occur in the second and sixth stanzas ("eyes"/ "cross"; "away"/ "day"; "leaks"/ "acetylene"). As I noted above, "away"/ "day" acts as a punctuation mark to conclude the first section of the poem—indeed, functioning in the same manner as the terminal couplet in the Shakespearian sonnet (which Crane had tried his hand at on several occasions) as well as the ottava rima and Spenserian stanzas.

In the eighth stanza, where there are no end rhymes, and in some of the others as well, where the rhymes are especially muted, Crane made particular use of interlinear sound correspondences, sometimes with striking effect. Consider his repetition of ls and rs in the fifth, sixth, and seventh stanzas, and how he builds to that magnificent combination in the eighth: "How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!" Also to be noted, the latter stanza stands alone in its use of alliteration with explosive effect ("fury fused," "prophets pledge," "Prayer of paraiah").


Needless to say, the notes above come nowhere near exhausting the subject of this poem’s meaning and how it works, and one should feel free to consult the growing number of critical works on Crane and the poem, some of which are listed below.

Some Useful References

Crane, Hart. Complete Poems of Hart Crane.
    Edited by Marc Simon. New York: Liveright, 2000.
Edelman, Lee. Transmemberment of Song:
    Hart Crane’s Anatomies of Rhetoric and Desire.
    Stanford: Stanford UP, 1987.
Fisher, Clive. Hart Crane: A Life. New Haven:
    Yale UP, 2002.
Giles, Paul. Hart Crane: The Contexts of "The Bridge."
    Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.
Leibowitz, Herbert A. Hart Crane: An Introdution
    to the Poetry. New York: Columbia UP, 1968.
Lewis, R.W.B. The Poetry of Hart Crane: A Critical
    Study. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1967.
Mariani, Paul. The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart
    Crane. New York: Norton, 1999.
Paul, Sherman. Hart’s Bridge. Urban:
    U Illinois P, 1972.
Quinn, Vincent Gerard. Hart Crane. New York:
    Twayne, 1963.
Yingling, Thomas. Hart Crane and the Homosexual
    Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies. Chicago:
    U Chicago P, 1991.


The Music

Dinu Ghezzo’s Eyes of Cassandra is a multilayered sectional composition incorporating the sampled elements of music and poetry from several Web interactive sessions that were later manipulated into a tightly controlled structure with overlapping studio additions. There is a clear path of events, starting with a mysterious and haunting introduction in C sharp, followed by the emergence of Cassandra at 1:15' in a foggy and distant background, and then of a duet of digital ethnic flute and base clarinet. This evolves into a tense inner struggle at 2:24', followed by a moment of hallucination (the Savage Birds). A double bass line emerges shortly at 3:00', carrying shattered images of Cassandra in punctuations and leading, at 3:52', into a steady metric improvisation that offers glimpses of thoughts and feelings. An oriental theme emerges at 5:02', which returns at 5:56' with an inner mysterious dance texture. At 7:07', the dance evaporates into a frivolous duet between bass clarinet and double bass. The long concluding section starts at 7:44' and returns to the original C sharp center with a trialogue of voices, instruments, and synthesizers.


Hart Crane (1899-1932)

An only child, Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, to Clarence Crane, a candy manufacturer, and Grace Hart. Christened Harold, he later informally adopted his mother’s maiden name as his first name on her suggestion.

His parents’ marriage was an unhappy one, and during his first three years of high school, his mother took him on frequent trips with her to Rye Beach, Boston, the Isle of Pines off Cuba in the Carribean, and westward across the country and across Canada, which gave him an early and unusual sense of the vastness and breadth of this country and indeed of the continent. When Crane was seventeen, the marriage broke up; his father agreed to provide liberally for him until he was twenty-one, and Crane, whose first poem had just been published in a Greenwich Village magazine, used this as an opportunity to go to New York and launch himself as a poet there. For the next eight years he shuttled back and forth between Cleveland and New York, working at a variety of jobs and living here, there, and everywhere.

Except for one brief occasion—with a Danish ship’s purser named Emil Opffer—Crane’s homosexual encounters were drunken and brief. The series of poems titled "Voyages," which were included in White Buildings (1926), his first collection, was dedicated to Opffer. This collection was clearly influenced by T.S. Eliot as well as other poets of that generation: Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings, and William Carlos Williams. Notable in it is "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen," his response to the pessimism of Eliot’s "Wasteland"(1922).

The poems included in Crane’s next and final collection, The Bridge (1930), are among his finest. Indeed, along with "The Wasteland" and William Carlos Williams’s Patterson, The Bridge is considered one of the major poetic sequences of the first half of the twentieth century.

Crane was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship the following year, which enabled him to go Mexico to work on a long poem about the Aztec civilization.

Following this, things did not go well for Crane. In 1931, his father died, after having lost most of his wealth in the stock market crash—which meant that Crane could expect neither assistance nor a legacy from him. In Mexico, he drank more than ever and at the end of the year had only a handful of poems. He decided to return home by ship and brought with him Peggy Cowley, wife of expatriate writer Malcolm Cowley, with whom he had been trying to form a heterosexual relationship. In the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, he jumped from the deck and vanished beneath the waves.

In The Bridge, Crane’s masterwork, he sought to counter Eliot’s pessimism concerning modern life, and some of the poems include "artifacts of civilization," like subways and tunnels, that one would not expect to find in a poetic milieu.

One pervasive influence was Walt Whitman, whose rapturous enthusiasm for growing, striving, bustling America Crane could not help but share. Equally influential was William Blake, especially in his use of catachresis—for it is only a short jump from something like this:

How the chimney sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appalls
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace walls

to something like this:

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.

Crane’s poetry is not easy to understand, his phrasing often requiring considerable puzzling over. But he was a master musician when it came to combining sounds, whether on a line or series of lines—far more so than any other poet of his time, including T.S. Eliot. Those new to his poetry would do well to read his works aloud at first, feeling the words as they form in one’s mouth and listening to how they echo and re-echo in an empty room. What better place to begin than with his best-known and loved "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge."


Dinu Ghezzo (b. 1941)

A native of Romania, Dinu Ghezzo was the second son of an Italo-Austrian father who was a naval officer and a "great bel canto tenor/baritone" and a Greek mother who was an amateur pianist. He began studying piano at his age 5 with one of his "Greek aunts"; from the very first lesson, "composition and piano were together." By the age of 13, composing was a serious undertaking, and at 15, the dye was cast. After high school, Mr. Ghezzo went on to the Romanian Conservatory of Music in Bucharest, where he studied theory and conducting in addition to composition. In 1968 he returned there as an assistant professor.

In 1969 he defected from Romania and went to Los Angeles, where he was taken under the wings of Nicolas Slonimsky, Boris Kremenliev, Roy Harris, and Paul Chihara at the University of California and awarded a doctorate in music in 1973. Mr. Ghezzo is currently a professor of Music and the Director of Composition Studies at New York University, and maintains his ties to Europe by frequently directing master classes and workshops as well as music festivals there.

To date, he has composed some 200 works, including most recently Eastern Rituals for ethnic soprano (singing Romanian, Greek, Italian, Macedonian, and Hungarian songs, re-arranged by him) and piano, synthesizers, flutes, buzuki, percussion. and electronic sound. Quite a few of Mr. Ghezzo's works have been heard in performance, and many can be found on Orion, Capstone, and TGE CDs. Recognition has come to him with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and ASCAP and CAPS, and he is a recipient of the prestigious George Enescu Award.

When asked to describe his music, Mr. Ghezzo said: "I began with serious attempts at twelve-tone and aleatoric works in Bucharest and Los Angeles, and early on I also developed an interest in electro-acoustic effects and the computer as tools for composing. As time went on here in New York, I gradually shifted my interest to a wider variety of styles, and as of the 1980s, I became involved in multimedia projects both as a composer and stage director." As a result of his wide range of interests, he feels that he does not belong to any one school of composing but is a part of many.

Among the composers whom he lists as his favorites and as those who influenced him the most are Dufay, Josquin, Gabrielli, Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Enescu, Bartok, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Schönberg, Webern, Varèse, Scriabine, Milhaud, Copland, Messiaen, Takemitsu, Ligeti, Lutoslavski, Berio, Anatol Vieru, Brubeck, and Chick Corea. He has also studied and enjoyed the ethnic music of his native Eastern Europe as well as Japan, Borneo/Java, and Africa.


The Slides

As I have often said, my slides are intended to accompany a text, never to stand alone, and my strategy is generally to complement a text with visuals rather than illustrate it.

There are sixteen slides in all for the poem, marking significant junctures in it. All are composites that I created in Adobe Photoshop, and these are generally based on photographs of mine; indeed, all of the slides include at least one photograph by me, and for this series I did extensive photographing along the Lower Manhattan waterfront, Flagler Beach, and Cedar Key. In the deeply personal eleventh stanza "Under thy shadow by the piers I waited," I included a photo of the poet in the design. The "bedlamite" in the slide for stanza 5 is a photo of Lark Ascending board member Arnold Greissle-Schönberg, for which he posed. The Jewish star and cross in the slides for stanza 7, I got from design books.

The slides for the music are obviously intended as spin-offs from those for the poem. Featured are the head of Crane, my Cassandra emblem, in various states of decomposition; and photos of gulls, blackbirds, and pelicans in the wild; fish in the Brooklyn Aquarium; and scenes from Vienna, Israel, and the Sinai desert as well as the above-named locations. I photographed the two dancers, Kaori Ito and Yayoi Nishida, in the fifth slide at a dress rehearsal of a piece called A Place to Eat and put them on Flagler Beach with the pier in the background. To the other dancers’ bodies, which I found, without photographer identification, in the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library, I added my own head. In the flute sequence, I included my photos of Jim, a life-sized bronze statue by American sculptor Jim Fletcher.

Nancy Bogen


Special thanks to the Music Division of NYSCA
for making the slide choreography
of Dinu Ghezzo's Eyes of Cassandra possible.