Hart Crane's Poetry
"Appollinaire lived in Paris, I live in Cleveland, Ohio"
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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This is a somewhat old-fashioned kind of book. It is a reading of Hart Crane’s poetry that brings to bear on the poetic text information from a variety of sources (e.g., art history, history of ideas, biography, psychoanalysis, classical literature, philosophy, mythology, and so on). ...
Part One: The Bridge
§ 1: The Pictorial and the Poetic; The Bridge as a Prophetic Vision of Origins
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In a 1927 letter to his benefactor Otto Kahn outlining the plan and progress of The Bridge, Hart Crane noted that each section of the poem “is a separate canvas, as it were, yet none yields its entire significance when seen apart from the others. One might take the Sistine Chapel as an analogy.”1 ...
§ 2 The Visual Structure of Prophetic Vision; a Simultaneous Glimpse Before and Behind
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Let us start by considering Henri Bellechose’s painting Altarpiece of St. Denis with Scenes from His Life (fig. 2.1) from the Charterhouse of Champmol, now in the Louvre. Completed at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the picture is a good example of a work of art produced during a transition period between two different traditions of visual representation...
§ 3 Spengler’s Reading of Perspective as a Culture-Symbol
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Keeping in mind our discussion of late Gothic and Renaissance techniques in representing prophetic vision, consider Spengler’s interpretation in The Decline of the West of the development of perspective in Western painting. His tendentious cultural history is based on the Goethean notion of an organic cycle governing the growth and decay of human institutions. ...
§ 4 The Bridge and the Paintings in the Sistine Chapel; Moses and Jesus: Columbus and Whitman; Joseph Stella; El Greco’s Agony in the Garden; the Grail; Dionysus and Jesus
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At this point we can begin to appreciate the subtlety with which Crane has combined elements from the visionary pictorial tradition and Spengler’s theories in structuring The Bridge, and we can also start to see the point of Crane’s remark likening the interrelationship of The Bridge’s sections to that of the individual Sistine paintings. ...
§ 5 Counterpoint in The Bridge
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Recall that Spengler associated the development of counterpoint with the contemporaneous development of the flying buttress system. He describes counterpoint as “an architecture of human voices” (1:229) in which the balancing of “parallel and contrary motions” (1:229) creates the dynamic equilibrium of the musical work; in much the same way...
§ 6 Foreshadowing and Lateral Foreshadowing; the Grail Quest; Eliot’s The Waste Land
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The forward and backward movement within the poem’s narrative sequence—from sections set in the quester’s twentieth century to sections set variously in the pre-Columbian world of the Indians, the fifteenth-century world of Columbus, and the nineteenth century of the pioneers, the gold rush, and the clipper ships...
§ 7 The Return to Origin; the Total Return to the Womb; the Primal Scene; Vision and Invisibility; the Dual Identification
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In “Ave Maria,” Columbus, at night in mid-ocean, prays to the Virgin Mother for safe return home, a veiled wish whose fantasized fulfillment occurs in “The Harbor Dawn” section when the quester “midway” in his nocturnal journey is recalled “from the soundless shore of sleep” to merge his seed with a mysterious woman “in a waking dream” (38). ...
§ 8 The Reversal of the Figures of Father and Mother in “Indiana”; Crane’s Dream of the Black Man by the River; Crane’s Quarrel with His Father; the Composition of “Black Tambourine
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This double sexual identification involves, by reason of the continuing reversal into the opposite inherent in it, an ambivalence toward both parents that in Crane’s case is particularly evident in “Indiana,” the final section of “Powhatan’s Daughter.” ...
§ 9 Crane’s Dream of His Mother’s Trunk in the Attic
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In contrast to the dream in which the father appears in the symbolic form of a black man, the other nightmare of Crane’s that Unterecker records is explicitly about Crane’s mother. The dream was so vivid, Unterecker notes, that Crane...
§ 10 Fantasies of Return to the Womb and the Primal Scene; Three Dimensions Reduced to Two as a Sign of Body Transcendence; the Triple Archetype; Goethe’s Faust; Plato’s Cave Allegory as a Sublimated Womb Fantasy; Helen as Mother; the Influence of Williams and Nietzsche; Demeter, Korē, and the Amerindian Corn Mother
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We began our extended analysis of the five sections of “Powhatan’s Daughter” by illustrating how the poetic equivalent of lateral foreshadowing in painting superimposes an afterimage—in effect, casts a shadow outline—from one of the poem’s sections upon an image from an adjacent section...
§ 11 Building the Virgin; Crane’s “To Liberty”; Lazarus’s “The New Colossus”; Helen and Psyche; Astraea and the Constellation Virgo; Demeter and Korē; the Virgin Mary and Queen Elizabeth I
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To judge from Crane’s correspondence, he had read Goethe’s Faust at least four years before reading Spengler, and since both Spengler’s sense of the Faustian persona and his images of Faustian aspiration are derived largely from Goethe’s play, we can assume that Crane read Spengler’s comments about the development of perspective...
§ 12 The Education of Henry Adams; Arnold’s “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse”; Wandering between Two Worlds; Seneca’s Medea; Whitman and the Rebound Seed
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Like a good many of his contemporaries, Crane had read The Education of Henry Adams (1918) and, to judge from “Cape Hatteras,” had been influenced by one of the book’s more memorable sections—chapter 25, “The Dynamo and the Virgin,” Adams’s meditation in the Gallery of Machines at the 1900 Paris Exposition...
§ 13 “Three Songs”; Golden Hair; “Quaker Hill” and the Motherly Artist; the Return of the Golden Age; Astraea and Atlantis
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The figure of the dead Whitman, whose spirit lives on in his writings, rising up from the world of the dead (that submerged realm of “our native clay” buried beneath the machinery of the modern world) to lead the poetic quester from the present into the future, fits into a larger pattern of imagery in the poem’s second half...
§ 14 Epic Predecessors: Aeneas and Dido; Survival through a Part-Object; Stellar Translation and the Golden-Haired Grain
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Just as Crane superimposes on the idealized object of the poem’s quest (the virgin-continent Pocahontas) the images of various archetypal females, so he superimposes on the poetic quester the images of earlier epic voyagers or seekers of the ideal. ...
§ 15 The Historical Pocahontas and the Mythical Quetzalcoatl; Prescott, Spence, and D. H. Lawrence as Influences on The Bridge; Waldo Frank’s Our America and the Image of Submergence
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The brilliance of Crane’s syncretist method in “The Dance” depends not just on his evoking structures and settings from the Aeneid as an allusive background but on how deftly he is able to merge this classical material with what he knew of Amerindian myth and lore. ...
§ 16 Nietzsche and the Return of the Old Gods; Zarathustra and Quetzalcoatl; the Eagle and the Serpent; the Dance
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The great nineteenth-century philosophic precursor of this movement to regain a vivifying access to pre-Christian cultures in the West was Nietzsche, who in such early works as the unfinished Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks and The Birth of Tragedy tried to reimagine the tragic sense of life of pre-Socratic Greece. ...
§ 17 The Aeneid, Book 6, and “The Tunnel”; “Cutty Sark” and Glaucus in Ovid; Burns’s “Tam o’ Shanter”; Glaucus in Keats’s Endymion
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When one considers the sheer amount of allusive material that Crane has layered beneath “The Dance” and the skill with which he has aligned the similarities in these disparate background texts to create as wide-reaching a cultural resonance as possible for the poem’s central scenario...
§ 18 Time and Eternity in “Cutty Sark”; Stamboul Rose, Atlantis Rose, and Dante’s Rose; Moby-Dick and “Cutty Sark”
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In his September 1927 letter to Otto Kahn, Crane explains that “‘Cutty Sark’ is built on the plan of a fugue. Two ‘voices’—that of the world of Time, and that of the world of Eternity—are interwoven in the action. The Atlantis theme (that of Eternity) is the transmuted voice of the nickel-slot...
§ 19 The Historical Cutty Sark; Hero and Leander; Jason and the Argo; Dante and the Argo
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After their night of drinking, the poetic quester and the old sailor leave the bar, and the sailor heads “up Bowery way while the dawn / was putting the Statue of Liberty out—that / torch of hers you know— // I started walking home across the Bridge . . . ” (52–53). ...
§ 20 Constellations and The Bridge
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A common figuration of the eternal is, of course, the ever-present stars in the night sky. Most of the brighter stars’ names are ancient, as is the practice of grouping these chaotic points of light into patterns with designations drawn from classical mythology. ...
§ 21 Constellations Continued; Panis Angelicus
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The single largest concentration of Crane’s allusions to constellations, as well as of his most explicit statements about the way they manifest the past’s eternal recurrence in the present, occurs in “Cape Hatteras.” This is not surprising, given that this section takes up the image of Columbus’s seagoing voyage of discovery...
§ 22 Time and Eternity; Temporal Narrative and Spatial Configuration; the Bridge as Memory Place; “Atlantis”; One Arc Synoptic of All Times
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In understanding Crane’s ongoing use of the imagery of the eternal stars, we have a hint to interpreting the kind of final vision the quester is granted in “Atlantis” upon emerging from the underworld of “The Tunnel.” For what Crane saw as the relationship between classical mythology and the ancient practice of naming constellations...
§ 23 “Atlantis” and the Image of Flight; Shelley’s “To a Skylark”; Pater and the Tears of Dionysus
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So far we have seen how Crane, in evoking the bridge’s network of cables as threads interwoven on a gigantic loom, presents us with an image of his own interweaving in “Atlantis” of allusive strands into a complex web of associations, and he adds yet another strand at the start of stanza 8...
§ 24 Love and Light; Love-as-Bridgeship; Pater and Botticelli’s Venus; Venus and the Rainbow; Foam-Born; Pyramids and Fire; From Ritual to Romance; Venus and Adonis
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If, as I’ve argued, something like an implicit history of mythological or religious belief in the West underlies the first eight stanzas of “Atlantis,” with the references in stanzas 1 through 5 being mainly to the classical world and in stanzas 6 through 8 to the Christian world, then with the first line of stanza 9 where he hails the bridge...
§ 25 Three Structures; the Visualization of the Womb Fantasy in The Last Judgement; the Transumptive Relationship
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Looking back over the whole of The Bridge, we can see that the work was built around three distinct but interconnected structures: First, the Eliotic “mythical method”—the layering, beneath the narrative of a contemporary action, of one or more older narratives whose actions resemble in significant ways the contemporary one such that the resemblance...
§ 26 Michelangelo’s Self-Portrait; Marsyas and the Suffering Artist
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We began this examination of The Bridge by focusing on Crane’s 1927 statement to Otto Kahn comparing the relationship among the poem’s sections to that of the Sistine paintings. We might well wonder at this point what had originally attracted Crane’s attention to these paintings as an analogue for an epic of American myth...
Part Two: White Buildings and “The Broken Tower”
§ 1 “Legend,” “Black Tambourine,” “Emblems of Conduct,” “My Grandmother’s Love Letters,” “Sunday Morning Apples”
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Most of Hart Crane’s short and middle-length poems—those in White Buildings, the Key West sheaf, the uncollected poems, and his last completed piece “The Broken Tower”—are related in one way or another to The Bridge. ...
§ 2 “Praise for an Urn,” “Garden Abstract,” “Stark Major,” “Chaplinesque”
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“Praise for an Urn,” the sixth poem in White Buildings, is also linked to William Sommer, its epigraph (“In Memoriam: Ernest Nelson”) naming “one of Sommer’s co-workers at Otis Lithography” (Unterecker 229). Nelson, in his fifties when Sommer introduced Crane to him, had been both a poet and painter in his earlier years. ...
§ 3 “Pastorale,” “In Shadow,” “The Fernery,” “North Labrador”
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Written around the middle of 1921 and first published in October of that year, “Pastorale,” the tenth poem in White Buildings, is a rather slight, “mood” piece, the sort of work a young poet includes in his first volume so that he’ll have enough poems to make up a first volume. ...
§ 4 “Repose of Rivers,” “Paraphrase,” “Possessions”
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With “Repose of Rivers,” the fourteenth poem in White Buildings, a poem written in 1926 and first published in September of that year, we enter the strongest portion of the volume. Like the ending of “The River” section of The Bridge, “Repose of Rivers” is structured as a journey down a river to a gulf...
§ 5 “Lachrymae Christi”
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If “Possessions” attempts to transform the “fixed stone of lust” into material for poetry—in effect to translate the speaker’s sexual excess, by means of an imaginative act, into “a pure possession”—then the next poem in White Buildings seeks to redeem another aspect of Crane’s excessive behavior (his alcoholism) by figuring this intoxication as Dionysian. ...
§ 6 “Passage”
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The eighteenth poem in White Buildings, “Passage,” written in mid to late 1925 and first published in July 1926, is linked in terms of theme and imagery to “Lachrymae Christi,” “Possessions,” and “Repose of Rivers.” Part of the power of the poems from “Repose of Rivers” onward to the volume’s end is that the accumulating connections...
§ 7 “The Wine Menagerie,” “Recitative”
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The nineteenth poem in White Buildings, “The Wine Menagerie,” written between late 1925 and early 1926 and first published in May 1926, begins with imagery of Dionysian intoxication redeeming ordinary vision by turning it into visionary insight...
§ 8 “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen”
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The twenty-first poem in White Buildings is “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,” its three sections written between March 1921 and late 1923 and published separately between January 1923 and the winter of 1924. We noted earlier the influence of Goethe’s Faust...
§ 9 “At Melville’s Tomb,” “Voyages I, II, III”
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“At Melville’s Tomb,” the twenty-second poem in White Buildings, was written in October 1925 and published in July 1926, its title recalling Mallarmé’s “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.” In Crane’s poem Melville’s “tomb” is evoked as being both the sea and Melville’s writings about the sea, and the first quatrain of Mallarmé’s sonnet on Poe sheds light on Crane’s project...
§ 10 “Voyages IV, V, VI”
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“Voyages IV,” built around images of time’s passage and of the lover’s parting and return, begins with the speaker saying that he has counted the “hours and days” before the lover’s homecoming, known time’s passing through the “spectrum of the sea,” that continuous range of changes in the sea’s appearance that...
§ 11 “The Broken Tower”
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The best poem Crane wrote between the publication of The Bridge in 1930 and his death in April 1932 was “The Broken Tower,” a work memorializing the only heterosexual love affair in his life and thus a work appropriately read in relation to the love poetry of “Voyages.” ...
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Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 22 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011