A poem that became famous over 100 years ago and has a Murfreesboro connection is reaching a new audience through an exhibit now in the Rotunda of the Murfreesboro City Hall through August 3.
"The Bridge Builder," written by Murfreesboro native Will Allen Dromgoole about 1900, quickly became a popular poem for its positive, intergenerational message. Today it continues to inspire readers around the world.
Dromgoole, a woman, was the author of a bestselling novel, The Island of the Beautiful, and also distinguished herself by studying law, writing and publishing prolifically, and serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War I. She wrote a column about Tennesseans for the Nashville Banner for over 30 years.
The inaugural Murfreesboro Cultural Arts Laureates named their exhibit "The Other Side: Contrasts in Our Community," in a nod to Dromgoole's poem. Painter Laureate Ginny Togrye includes the text of the poem in her painting "Bridge Builder" which depicts the construction of the bridge over Broad (also known as Bridgey McBridgeface for a day, as Murfreesboro Voice readers know). While the focus of the painting is the new construction, Togrye interprets the bridge spanning a distance from the historic African-American neighborhood of the Bottoms to a line of Civil War soldiers advancing with the American flag.
Photographer Laureate Jessica Nelson and Poet Laureate Kory Wells also contribute to the exhibit, which, they say, expands the concept of bridging past and present to include the idea of connecting with "the other," whether that's someone of a different race, religion, or another identity.
The three laureates were asked to create new work inspired by the city during their term.
In 2017, Cultural Arts Murfreesboro, a division of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, launched the Laureates program. The goals of the program include highlighting local artists and encouraging their outreach and advocacy across the city, especially to underserved and non-traditional audiences.
The exhibit also features numerous collages of community work that was completed in projects during the laureates' term.
The City Hall Rotunda is open from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM daily. Admission is free. An artists reception will be held Thursday, June 28, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM, with brief poetry readings at 7:00 and 8:00.
The Bridge Builder
by Will Allen Dromgoole
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
For more about Dromgoole, visit poetryfoundation.org.
"Bridge Builder" by Ginny Togrye