May 23, 2012

The Golden Gate Bridge: 75 years in literature


This coming Sunday San Francisco marks The Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th birthday with a series of tributes, festivals, and readings.

The suspension bridge is known across the globe for its grand towers and sweeping beauty, but also for its place in popular culture, including literature.

It would take a great deal of research to qualify just how many times, and in which stories, essays, poems, and novels the bridge is mentioned. But for the purposes of today’s MobyLives post, here are some examples that quickly call to mind the many sides of the Golden Gate.

+ From Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland:

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge represents a transition, in the metaphysics of the region, there to be felt even by travelers unwary as Zoyd. When the busful of northbound hippies first caught sight of it, just at sundown as the fog was pouring in, the towers and cables ascending into pale gold otherworldly billows, you heard a lot of ”Wow,” and ”Beautiful,” though Zoyd only found it beautiful the way a firearm is, because of the bad dream unreleased inside it, in this case the brute simplicity of height, the finality of what swept below relentlessly out to sea. They rose into the strange gold smothering, visibility down to half a car length. . . .

+ From Amy Hempel’s “Today Will Be A Quiet Day”:

“I THINK IT’S the other way around,” the boy said. “I think if the quake hit now the bridge would collapse and the ramps would be left.”

He looked at his sister with satisfaction.

“You are just trying to scare your sister,” the father said. “You know that is not true.”

“No, really,” the boy insisted, “and I heard birds in the middle of the night. Isn’t that a warning?”

The girl gave her brother a toxic look and ate a handful of Raisinets. The three of them were stalled in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

That morning, before waking his children, the father had canceled their music lessons and decided to make a day of it. He wanted to know how they were, is all. Just—how were they. He thought his kids were as self-contained as one of those dogs you sometimes see carrying home its own leash. But you could read things wrong.

Could you ever.

+ From Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius:

“Up there we see everything, Oakland to the left, El Cerrito and Richmond to the right, Marin forward, over the Bay, Berkeley below, all red rooftops and trees of cauliflower and columbine, shaped like rockets and explosions, all those people below us, with humbler views; we see the Bay Bridge, clunkety, the Richmond Bridge, straight, low, the Golden Gate, red toothpicks and string, the blue between, the blue above, the gleaming white Land of the Lost/Superman’s North Pole Getaway magic crystals that are San Francisco.”

+ From Jack London’s Martin Eden:

Far Tamalpais, barely seen in the silver haze, bulked hugely by the Golden Gate, the latter a pale gold pathway under the westering sun. Beyond, the Pacific, dime and vast, was raising on its sky-line tumbled cloud-masses that swept landward, giving warming of the first blustering breath of winter.

+ From Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate:

the towers,
High built, red-gold, with their long span
—The most majestic spun by man—
Whose threads of steel through mists and showers,
Wind, spray, and the momentous roar
Of ocean storms, link shore to shore.

+ From Ethel Rohan’s “The Bridge They Said Couldn’t Be Built”:

I told Ben how I liked to walk the Bridge every Sunday morning, liked how the wind sifted through me, how the fog swallowed me.

“Do you think there’s a heaven?” he asked.

“Here, this is heaven.”

“This is hell,” he said.

“It’s that too.”

+ From Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums:

Then we climbed up a steep pine slope and came out to the highway and went up the side of a hill of grass and came out in some outdoor theater, done Greek style with stone seats all around a bare stone arrangement for four-dimensional presentations of Aeschylus and Sophocles. We drank water and sat down and took our shoes off and watched the silent play from the upper stone seats. Far away your could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the whiteness of San Francisco.

+ From Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone:

Late afternoon, Mason came and took us all for a ride. He drove over the Golden Gate Bridge because he knew Mah loved how the light bounced off the cable, copper and bright gold, and Leon like to remember the first time he sailed into San Francisco, how when his ship passed under the Golden Gate, the light disappeared for a long moment.

+ From Joseph P. Strauss’ (chief engineer of the GGB) The Mighty Task is Done”:

Written upon completion of the building of the Bridge in May 1937

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all — the sea.

To north, the Redwood Empire’s gates;
‘To south, a happy playground waits,
in Rapturous appeal;
Here nature, free since time began,
Yields to the restless moods of man,
Accepts his bonds of steel.

Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears,
Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,
Yet ne’er its course was stayed,
But ask of those who met the foe
Who stood alone when faith was low,
Ask them the price they paid.

Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire,
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single, stalwart part,
What gave it force and power.

An Honored cause and nobly fought
And that which they so bravely wrought,
Now glorifies their deed,
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.

High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life’s restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm,
For Fate had meant it so.

And that’s only a few. What are some of your favorite literary scenes featuring the Golden Gate Bridge?


Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.