Loving ode to Bridge Poets: Reflections

Red Bridge
Red Bridge spanning the Yellow River in Allamakee County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

After a brief break in light of the recent events occurring in the United States with a pair of bridge collapses, the next poem to be presented is one written by Norman F. Brydon, entitled Reflections.  Little was written about the author except for the fact that he spent most of his 78 years of life before dying in 1982. Brydon was most famous for his book, “The Pasaic River: Past, Present, Future,” which was written in 1974. He wrote about James Caldwell two years later, which you can view the script here. And lastly, he was one of the very first authors who wrote about New Jersey’s covered bridges in 1971, which has long since been out of print, but it deals with how these bridges were popular before the age of Industrialization.

Reflections, written in 1969,  talks about a bridge that has been crossed for many years but still carries a lot of memories of the people that crossed it, including those who were there to reflect on their lives and how they could have done something different, but in all reality, it was too late. The poem brought some memories back to the times I spent reflecting on my life on one of these bridges, like this one in Allamakee County, Iowa, which has been sitting there abandoned for years and is now owned by nature. There were times I would visit one of these bridges and sit there for hours, looking at the things that I did and finding ways to turn all the wrongs committed into right ones. But this was as a teenager growing up, but many of us still have a chance to reflect about themselves as they stare down at the mirror-reflection of the river from the old bridge, wondering, as adults, whether we made the right decisions or whether they can be changed before it’s too late.

Here’s the poem in its entirety:

Abandoned above the coursing stream

Whose currents race so heedless by

Between high banks where granite boulders gleam

Recalling the flowing years that fly

The quickly fading then, the urgent now

A moment briefly noted, long forgot

A corridor of memories that you endow

In muted shapes, where arching timbers rot

Half hidden and with shaded trusses blurred.

Footsteps muffled to my waiting ears

By dust laid deep on oaken planks now stirred

To echo thoughts long buried with the years.

Within your shadows sparked by errant beams

I walk again to find abandoned dreams.

Loving ode to bridge poets: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

red bridge
Red Bridge spanning the Des Moines River in Des Moines. Photo taken in August 2011

Before we move on to the next bridge poem, here is a question to ask you readers: Who was your favorite poet when you grew up and what poems was he/she famous for? I’m completely sure you grew up listening to favorite poems by the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Robert Frost and even Norman Brydon and having a few stuck in your heads thanks to your English teacher reciting them to you day in and day out.  Each country has it own set of favorite poets; German had Friedrich Schiller and Wolfgang Goethe, England had Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson. In the United States, we have the likes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose poem will be read in a short bit. Longfellow (1807-1882) is one of the most popular American poets whose works we still read today. He was famous for writing Paul Revere’s Ride (and his famous war cry “The British are coming!- the drumming of the War for Independence in Colonial America), Evangeline and the Songs of Hiawatha. He was one of the five fireside poets, popular 19th century poets whose general adherence to poetic convention consisted of “….standard forms, regular meter, and rhymed stanzas and the poems were made suitable for memorization and recitation in school and also at home, where it was a source of entertainment for families gathered around the fire.”  This poem, entitled “The Bridge” was one of the poems that Longfellow wrote during his lifetime, even though it was one of the less popular ones. As you will read in this poem, it takes place at night, when all is quiet in the city except for the forces of nature that had been quelled by people and traffic during the day but now has a chance to show its true colors at night, making the bridge and the surroundings more appealing to people willing to risk darkness just for some air and some time to relax and reflect on what happened earlier in the day and what is yet to come.

If you have an opportunity to do so and if you find one that is lit at night, go to a bridge, walk toward the center and then stop. Listen to nature and its calling and think about it. Gather some impressions and write it down on paper. Who know? Perhaps you can turn your impressions into a work of art like you will see from Longfellow.  Enjoy the poem.

The Bridge

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I stood on the bridge at midnight,
   As the clocks were striking the hour,
And the moon rose o’er the city,
   Behind the dark church-tower.


I saw her bright reflection
   In the waters under me,
Like a golden goblet falling
   And sinking into the sea.


And far in the hazy distance
   Of that lovely night in June,
The blaze of the flaming furnace
   Gleamed redder than the moon.


Among the long, black rafters
   The wavering shadows lay,
And the current that came from the ocean
   Seemed to lift and bear them away;


As, sweeping and eddying through them,
   Rose the belated tide,
And, streaming into the moonlight,
   The seaweed floated wide.


And like those waters rushing
   Among the wooden piers,
A flood of thoughts came o’er me
   That filled my eyes with tears.


How often, O, how often,
   In the days that had gone by,
I had stood on that bridge at midnight
   And gazed on that wave and sky!


How often, O, how often,
   I had wished that the ebbing tide
Would bear me away on its bosom
   O’er the ocean wild and wide!


For my heart was hot and restless,
   And my life was full of care,
And the burden laid upon me
   Seemed greater than I could bear.


But now it has fallen from me,
   It is buried in the sea;
And only the sorrow of others
   Throws its shadow over me.


Yet whenever I cross the river
   On its bridge with wooden piers,
Like the odor of brine from the ocean
   Comes the thought of other years.


And I think how many thousands
   Of care-encumbered men,
Each bearing his burden of sorrow,
   Have crossed the bridge since then.


I see the long procession
   Still passing to and fro,
The young heart hot and restless,
   And the old subdued and slow!


And forever and forever,
   As long as the river flows,
As long as the heart has passions,
   As long as life has woes;


The moon and its broken reflection
   And its shadows shall appear,
As the symbol of love in heaven,
   And its wavering image here.

Loving ode to bridge poets: The Unknown Bridge

Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2011

The Month of Bridge Poets

The month of dedicating our loving odes to bridge poets continue with another bridge poem that was discovered a few years ago. Unlike the previous post (which featured the first poem), this one is untitled and was written by an unknown soul. Yet the author wrote the poem about a bridge that had been serving people and traffic- in a form of horse and buggy- with a question of what stories the bridge may had had at that time. While it was most likely written in the 18th or early 19th century, the central theme has to do with bridges and their own history. Let’s have a look at the poem:


What stories could these bridges tell

If they could only talk?

They’d tell us of the ones who rode

And those who had to walk.

The rich, the poor, those inbetween,

Who used their planks to cross

The soldiers, farmers, businessmen,

In buggies, sleighs, by “hoss”.

Like sentinels these bridges stand

In spite of flood and fire,

Their rugged, stalwart strength remains our

Future to inspire

Each bridge does have a collection of stories that may have been told by people who either knew about it from the stories told by their ancestors or who had visited the bridge, doing activities that were sometimes memorable, like a Sunday walk with family to catch-up on lost time, and sometimes not so memorable, like a getting into a brawl with archrivals or even worse.

With each crossing of the bridge, a mark is left on its planks, its metal beams and its ornamental railings that can tell of the times of joy and that of trial. Each bridge is part of a community of people wanting to know more about its history, let alone create history to share with the next generations. And therefore, this poem deals with bridges and the stories that are unknown and should be sought, their legacies and how it should remain in place, and their symbol as a structure that serves as an identity to their respective communities.

Author’s note: If you know of the title of this poem and the author’s name, please submit it to Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles and it will be added to the poem. 

Also, after reading the poem, here’s a question for the forum:  Do you have a bridge with a lot of stories that you heard about and/or would like to share with others? If so, please place them in the comment section here or via facebook. We’re eager to read them.