Oct 142012

An exploratory twirl across a precarious bridge of words in “The Suspension”

The Suspension

bridge being
by its nature

at either end
without anchors
heavily laden

and the wide
context of connection
of place

to place
like a man webbed
to his life

birth to death
pegged feeling

tickle across him
as he sways daily
going nowhere--

Watch the wind
now playfully
wake it


The punctuation of a pause. An incentive in the incompleteness of a phrase broken across the spine of several lines of verse. Like the tense energy of a bullwhip that gathers to a crisp crack that then echoes in the listeners’ ears, “The Suspension” attempts this trick of suave timing and intention. The effect is to leave a suggestion of multiple meanings and insinuations in each line far beyond the mere sketch that the words themselves provide. Laid out and read as a simple pair if sentences, there’s not a whole lot of intensity in the language. But, strung across the intervaled frets of the line breaks, the language gains enough tension to be play many different tunes without breaking the basic sense of the piece.

Read aloud sensitively, the voice is pulled toward a monotone. The monotone is a way of testing each word by its own merits, without prejudice. Each word adds its plink to the melody beyond (or absent) any assumed speaker’s intentions; like a tune clawed from a Japanese samisen, the spirit of the listener finds itself eerily manifesting in the perfected intervals between each line, word, and syllable. This method of versification trends toward the use of monosyllabic word choices since that lets each meaning-and-sound unit most easily have its maximum impact of implication.

In this poem, the tension of multiple meanings and implications begins right in the title. Let’s speed through the lines with some initial possibilities before we consider how all of these multiple meanings and some of the sound values add up to the sort of sculpture-in-motion of one of Calder’s merry mobiles–a stiffened, crafted and finished shape that still can change is outline even though the observer keeps his mind “still like the hummingbird.”

The Suspension(motion tensed to stillness; a paused act; implicit indecision; being let go or released from one’s usual work or task;)

bridge being(the physical object of the poem surpassingly introduced, the bridge; essence of the object, or being, is connection; connection between two of what, though; connection itself as a form of stasis; oxymoron of this stasis, which pulls the meaning in two directions at once; a suspension bridge is the lightest and most aerial kind of bridge, a tightrope across an abyss;)

by its nature(both naturally and in the outward manifestation of its interiority;)

incomplete(pulling away from the implied completeness or fullness of ‘nature’ in previous line; emphasized by its placement at the end of the stanza; having in air like the suspension bridge itself, a natural manifestation of the oxymoron;)

at either end(changes the focus from the bridge to its end-points; neither end is itself the focus, which keeps suspended feeling going; question arises: how exactly is it ‘incomplete / at either end’; the eye can look only at one end at a time, and so shifts back and forth; the mobile is twirling;)

without anchors(the nature of the incompleteness is modified: anchors remove it, complete the connecting nature of the bridge; raises the contemplation of an anchorless bridge; would it be like a kite let go in a storm; would it simply collapse;)

heavily laden(nature of the anchors; the lightness of the bridge requires weight too, like a kite when guided by a fist holding its twine; sense of oppression; loss of freedom; the weight of the past; a burden spiritual or physical;)

and the wide(opening the viewpoint; wideness of river; bringing in the existence of whatever is bridged over; bridge overcomes an obstacle, this is at least implied;)

context of connection(meaning, context, occur only beyond the actual span of the bridge and its anchors; no man is an island; riding the mobile is a game of blind-man’s-bluff; pattern requires perspective;)

of place(the context, albeit in a generalized noun;)

to place(place is doubled, like the anchors; origins and destinations are definite, but is the bridge equally real;)

like a man webbed(major simile of the poem is introduced: the bridge is like a man, man is like a bridge; continuation of slight anthropomorphization of “heavily laden”; “webbed” is an unusual word choice, the only metaphor in the poem; stringiness of suspension bridge referenced; man and bridge are tied down, laden; whether spider or fly remains unclear;)

to his life(life is the place of human context; destinations;)

birth to death(place becomes time; length of a man’s life is the width of his context;)

pegged feeling(subjective aspect of connection emphasized; burden underlined; suggestion of crucifixion, sacrifice;)

traffic(quick switch back the literal context of the bridge; many things, many thoughts, many feelings travel over the bridge of a man’s burdensome existence; once an electronic circuit is complete, information flows;)

tickle across him(quick switch back to the subjective context; “tickle” implies it may not all be suffering; annoyance of tickling; implied laughter too;)

as he sways daily(indecision of being pegged, webbed between obligations, burdens, anchors)

going nowhere–(man’s life, like bridge, although a means of connect is itself inherently directionless; induced oxymoronic meditative state; threat of meaninglessness; dash emphasizes stoppage;)

Watch the wind(first new clause, capitalized for emphasis; the invisibility of the wind is a hidden context of the suspension bridge, the medium of its swaying; like time is man’s invisible medium of his existence;)

now playfully(return to lightness of “tickle”; context of bridge is beyond bridge’s, or man’s control;)

wake it(invasiveness of windy context liberates the bridge from its burdens; no “patient etherized upon a table,” the bridge, the man, is conscious in his suffering, the necessities of his connections;)

singing!(wires of the suspension bridge hum and sing in the playful wind; reminiscent of Coleridge’s Aeolian Harp poem, which was a metaphor for the soul; trapped between places and contexts, weighted at both ends, run across by purposeful others, still expression, freedom, patterns of meaning and feeling are possible; )

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