Clipper Ship Cutty Sark has provided the inspiration for poetry across the globe. This week we look at Hart Crane’s epic poem The Bridge.

Hart Crane (b. 1899 – d. 1932), an American writer of modernist poetry, referenced Cutty Sark and contemporary clipper ships in his most ambitious work, The Bridge

This fifteen-part epic poem was inspired by New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and includes sections celebrating Christopher Columbus, Pocahontas, Rip Van Winkle as well as clipper ship Cutty Sark. Through the recollections of a drunken sailor who recounts the glory days of the clipper ships, the 1869 clipper is named “Perennial-Cutty-trophied-Sark!”

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Cutty Sark whisky – named after the world-famous clipper ship - was Crane’s preferred brand of whisky.

Hear Tennessee Williams read Crane’s poem.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich

Cutty Sark from The Bridge - By Hart Crane

I met a man in South Street, tall –

a nervous shark tooth swung on his chain.

His eyes pressed through green glass

-          green glasses, or bar lights made them

so –

            shine –

                        GREEN –

                                    eyes –

stepped out – forgot to look at you

or left you several blocks away –

 

in the nickel-in-the-slot piano jogged

‘Stamboul Nights’ – weaving somebody’s nickel-sang-

 

            O Stamboul Rose – dreams weave the rose!

 

                        Murmurs of Leviathan he spoke,

                        and rum was Plato in our heads…

 

‘‘It’s S.S. Ala – Antwerp – now remember kid

to put me out at three she sails on time.

I’m not much good at time any more keep

weakeyed watches sometimes snooze-’’ his bony hands

got to beating time… ‘‘A whaler once-

I ought to keep time and get over it-I’m a

Democrat-I know what time it is-No

I don’t want to know what time it is-that

damned white Arctic killed my time…’’

 

            O Stamboul Rose-drums weave-

 

‘‘I ran a donkey engine down there on the Canal

in Panama-got tired of that-

then Yucatan selling kitchenware-beads-

have you seen Popocatepetl-birdless mouth

with ashes sifting down-?

                                    and then the coast again…’’

 

            Rose of Stamboul O coral Queen-

            teased remnants of the skeletons of cities-

            and galleries, galleries of watergutted lava             

            snarling stone-green-drums-drown-

 

Sing!

‘‘-that spiracle!’ he shot a finger out the door…

‘‘O life’s a geyser-beautiful-my lungs-

No-I can’t live on land-!’’

 

I saw the frontiers gleaming of his mind;

or are there frontiers-running sands sometimes

running sands-somewhere-sands running…

Or they may start some white machine that sings.

Then you may laugh and dance the axletree-

steel-silver-kick the traces-and know-

 

            ATLANTIS ROSE drums wreathe the rose

            the star floats burning in a gulf of tears

and sleep another thousand-

 

                                    interminably

long since somebody’s nickel-stopped-

playing-

 

A wind worried those wicker-neat lapels, the

swinging summer entrances to cooler hells…

Outside a wharf truck nearly ran him down

-          he lunged up Bowery way while the dawn

was putting the Statue of Liberty out – that

torch of hers you know-

 

I started walking home across the Bridge…

 

            .     .     .     .     .     .    .    .

 

Blithe Yankee vanities, turreted sprites, winged

                                                British repartees, skil-

ful savage sea-girls

that bloomed in the spring-Heave, weave

those bright designs the trade winds drive…

 

            Sweet opium and tea, Yo-ho!

            Pennies for porpoises that bank the keel!

            Find whip the breeze around Japan!

 

Bright skysails ticketing the Line, wink round the Horn

to Frisco, Melbourne…

                                    Pennants, parabolas-

clipper dreams indelible and ranging,

baronial white on lucky blue!

 

            Perennial-Cutty-trophied-Sark!

 

Thermopylae, Black Prince, Flying Cloud through Sunda

-scarfed of foam, their bellies veered green esplanades,

locked in wind-humours, ran their eastings down;

 

            at Java Head freshened the nip

            (sweet opium and tea!)

and turned and left us on the lee…

 

Buntlines tusseling (91 days, 20 hours and anchored!)

                                                Rainbow, Leander

(last trip a tragedy)- where can you be

Nimbus? and you rivals two-

 

            A long tack keeping-

                                    Taeping?

                                    Ariel?

[Hart Crane, ‘‘Cutty Sark’’ from The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, edited by Marc Simon. Copyright © 1933, 1958, 1966 by Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1986 by Marc Simon.] 

Read more poetry inspired by Cutty Sark here.