Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Crucifixion of the Skyscraper"

Let me first begin by apologising for how belated this post is, and for the irregularity of updates on this blog over these past weeks. Again, busyness has come into the picture, and as they say, things get harder in the second year, especially with energies flagging; plus this time round, I am embarking on my Masters, on a topic I’m not too confident of pulling off (that’s also the reason why I’m doing it, haha); but we’ll still do our best to keep things going at puisi-poesy, ok? :) Anyway, here’s an interesting poem for this week.


Crucifixion of the Skyscraper

Men took the skyscraper
And nailed it to the rock. Each nerve and vein
Were searched by iron hammers. Hour on hour,
The bolts were riveted tighter. Steel and stone
Did what they could to quench the fiery core
That blaze within. Till when the work was done,
Solid as sepulchre, square-rooted to the rock,
The skyscraper, a well polished tomb of hope,
Guarded by busy throngs of acolytes,
Shouldered aside the sun. Within its walls
Men laid a little gold.
But yet not dead
However long battered by furious life,
However buried under tons of frozen weight
That structure was. At night when crowds no more
Jostled its angles, but the weary streets
Of a worn planet stared out at the stars;
Its towering strength grown ghostly, pure, remote,
Lone on the velvety night in flights of gold
The tower rose. The skyscraper dripped light.

by J. Gould Fletcher
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When I first read this poem, I was struck by the inventiveness of its imagery. I wouldn’t exactly call it beautiful, but it had its own particular vision that made me view the familiar sight of the city with its skyscraper in a whole new different light.

Those of us who live in cities are so used to seeing skyscrapers, not to mention, being totally dwarfed in by them that we hardly ‘see’ them at all. This poem, I believe, was written in the early days when skyscrapers started going up, filing the city skyline. In a way, a skyscraper must have been something of a novelty then, with its tall, solid brashness.

The poem begins with the building of a skyscraper, which gets transfigured into a crucifixion scene, with the skyscraper turned into a living being, with “nerve and vein” (steel beams and girders). Emptied of its Christian significance, this image suggests that something momentous and groundbreaking is taking place. In a sense, it’s a religious moment of sorts during the first half of the 20th century, heralding an insistent urban modernisation. The fire image which definitely stumped me at first later began to take shape as one that perhaps draws from the image of a metal forge with its red hot furnace burning, as metal works are being hammered out… which may be drawing a bit of the mythical, I think… the Roman god Vulcan in the volcano working on metal tools and weapons for the gods.

While the skyscraper now stands as a mighty edifice against the sky, it is described paradoxically as a “tomb of hope”. This commingling of two antithetical concepts makes the skyscraper a place and symbol of both death and hope. The tomb metaphor connotes an emotional coldness in the pursuit of wealth, but one where people’s hopes and lives are also pinned or build upon; hence they become ‘instruments’ to the company, made to ‘lay’ gold, much like the goose in the children’s fairy tale which hatched golden eggs.

At this point, the poem breaks off and pauses. The skyscraper though ‘crucified’ as a monument remains very much alive…. as if its occupation of physical space as a hive of human activity and commerce lends it a life of its own, weathering the ‘battering’ of life and its burden. With the day’s cycle, evening comes and all the busyness ends, leaving the skyscraper in a final image, silhouette against the night sky in its steel, chilly beauty ‘dripping light’.

I am very much intrigued by this poem, and the idea of buildings and physical spaces being alive... (not forgetting, the crucifixion metaphor.) To me, this poem seems rich in its ambivalence, describing our human relationship to urban modernity. What do you think?

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5 Comments:

Blogger Nicholas Wong said...

Hey, nice write-up.

I was reminded of a poem about skyscrapers by Thom Gunn, called 'Diagrams'. Can't find it online so here you go: -

Downtown, an office tower is going up.
And from the mesa of unfinished top
Big cranes jut, spectral points of stiffened net:
Angled top-heavy artefacts, and yet
Diagrams from the sky, as if its air
Could drop lines, snip them off, and leave them there.

On girders round them, Indians pad like cats,
With wrenches in their pockets and hard hats.

They wear their yellow boots like moccasins,
Balanced where air ends and where steel begins,
Sky men, and through the sole's flesh, chewed and pliant,
They feel the studded bone-edge of the giant.
It grunts and sways through its whole metal length.
And giving to the air is sign of strength.

9:06 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Wow... this is really neat. I love it. Thanks so much, Nic.

Have fun at NS, yea...

2:16 PM, June 15, 2007  
Blogger Han said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:47 PM, June 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi can u actually summarise up this poem and the meaning I didn't quite get what you wrote about this because I'm doing this for my English exam , please help out! Thanks (:

3:15 PM, April 14, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey i like this really helped a lot. Thanks so much. but one thing though, do you mind elaborating on the relationship between the humans and the modern day society? If you don't want to it's fine, but anyways this is a really good analysis. Thanks ;)

5:40 PM, April 16, 2014  

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