Today in our Journey to Brooklyn we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I could sense the historic atmosphere of the bridge, and I trailed idly away from the group, indulging in quiet reflection as I stood to look out over the East River. Our guide had pointed out the original location of the Brooklyn Ferry where Walt Whitman would have crossed to the island of Manhattan. In his poetry of the city, Whitman constantly makes references to the waterways and as I took in the layout of the area I imagined what it would have looked like, bustling with tall masts and steamships:
“Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb, with tall and wonderful
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships—an island sixteen miles
Numberless crowded streets—high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly
uprising toward clear skies;
Tide swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown”
This section from Whitman’s 1900 poem Manahatta illustrates this connection to the waterways, describing the East River as the centre of maritime activities in the city. Today, however, it is no longer the bustling port and the murky grey-green estuary flows unadorned. Flanked on either side lie decrepit warehouses and structures which were once necessary for the burgeoning sea trade. Now, the ‘high growths of iron…uprising toward clear skies’ push closer to the edge of the River, skyscrapers clambering for space, building up the edges so much that the river no longer carves its natural course. I think Whitman would have been unsettled by this modern vista, he wrote so passionate and excitedly about the natural elements of New York City, when he addresses the construction of the city the “Numberless crowded streets” his tone feels darkened as he tries to turn manmade structures into a living organism describing them as “growths of iron” appears almost grotesque.
As I touched upon in my first blog post, I feel a sense of disconnection in cities and often seek out the natural world to stir my creativity. However, I was inspired by Whitman’s ability to celebrate the presence of nature in every creation and in homage to this sentiment I have written about my own experiences of the city and in particular central park;
The sunlight moves quickly across manicured scrubland- sprouting upwards between pillars of human co-existence,
Splashing over stones worn smooth- touched by a thousand hands and scraped by a thousand boots,
It trickles down over sniffling faces who take the brisk scenic route between air-conditioned spaces,
It illuminates the grey and brown overdose of the city, leafless lifeless trees and scavengers scurrying with their loots.
The fatigued light goes out and from the sky falls a delicate crystal – rapidly blanketing everything in sight.
From a fissure in the clouds, the sun bursts out in a final display of blinding glory, dancing across the snow,
The park standing in dazzling beauty as the light twinkles across the covering like glittering stars.