Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bridge of Air

Bridge of Concrete
Vintage Postcard of the Henry Avenue Bridge
over the Wissahickon Creek, Philadelphia
Erected in 1932, masonry construction, 915 feet long, 84 feet wide
185 feet above water level in Wissahickon Creek
One of the most beautiful bridges in Philadelphia --
connecting Roxborough and Germantown.

In her comments about poet Czeslaw Milosz (click or scroll down) my friend Beata describes life in the United States after her immigration from Poland as "a different world . . . a different market, a different air," stretching across the vast distance between her two lives. Of her fellow countryman Milosz, she observes that his writing "helped me to build and cross my invisible bridge above the Atlantic Ocean."

Bridge imagery, similar to that in Beata's reminiscence, can also be found in Seamus Heaney's eulogy of Czeslaw Milosz:

"Somewhere, for example, he compares a poem to a bridge built out of air over air, and one of the great delights of his work is a corresponding sensation of invigilating reality from a head-clearing perspective, being liberated into the authentic solitude of one's own being and at the same time being given gratifying spiritual companionship, so that one is ready to say something like 'It is good for us to be here.'

"Milosz was well aware of this aspect of his work and explicit about his wish that poetry in general should be capable of providing such an elevated plane of regard."


I am not entirely sure which work Heaney had in mind, but here are a couple of poems containing memorable bridge imagery:

On Prayer

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word 'is'
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.


You whom I could not save
Listen to me.
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.

What strengthened me, for you was lethal.
You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new one,
Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty,
Blind force with accomplished shape.

Here is the valley of shallow Polish rivers. And an immense bridge
Going into white fog.
Here is a broken city,
And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave
When I am talking with you.

What is poetry which does not save
Nations or people?
A connivance with official lies,
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.

They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds
To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds.
I put this book here for you, who once lived
So that you should visit us no more.

both poems by Czeslaw Milosz
[emphasis added]

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