Rope Bridge

Cohen, Nan

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey
  • Date of entry: Dec-04-2007
  • Last revised: Dec-03-2007


Nan Cohen's poem, Rope Bridge, from the collection of the same name, explores the intersections between science and art by lyrically describing a landmark psychological study on the attribution of emotion. The study, by Dutton and Aron in 1974, was based on the theories of Schacter and Singer from the previous decade. In one set of experiments, male volunteer subjects met a female assistant under two different circumstances - either in a benign setting or after braving the swaying Capilano Bridge. This bridge is suspended hundreds of feet above a river near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; subjects who met the assistant after crossing the suspension bridge were more likely to exhibit behaviors compatible with feelings of attraction to the woman.

The brilliance of Cohen's poem is the smooth interplay between scientific and poetic language. Imbedded in the poem are survey questions with lines ready for tick marks, as well as phrases such as "the attribution of a heightened state". The scientific language is not only juxtaposed, but intertwined with lyric flights: "Who would say: it is fear that takes my breath, / that wets my palms... / the fear that sleeps in me".



Although the poem does not literally transcribe psychology experiments (see Dutton DG, Aron AP. Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. J Personality & Social Psychology. 1974;30(4):510-7 and Schacter S, Singer JE. Cognitive, social and physiological components of the emotional state. Psychological Review 1962;69:379-99) it does offer enough of a scientific basis to situate the poem, and yet remains entirely successful as a poem. Cohen, a former Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, offers the reader a gift: a fascinating glimpse into a nexus of artistic and scientific inquiry, that is, the search for what it is to be human.

Primary Source

Rope Bridge


Cherry Grove Collections

Place Published

Cincinnati, OH