- When I'm Calling You: Reading, Romance, and Rhetoric In and Around Hart Crane's "Voyages"
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 47, Number 4, Winter 1991
- pp. 85-118
- View Citation
- Additional Information
ERIC SELINGER When Fm Calling You: Reading, Romance, and Rhetoric In and Around Hart Crane's "Voyages" Souls never touch their objects. What is it, then, between us? The imaged Word, it is— The poem is you.1 ? cento tells a love story, of sorts. These fragments of .Emerson, Whitman, Crane, and Ashbery trace a tradition of longing: of a desire for and an ultimate disbelief in the ability of any poem to rest "between two persons instead of two pages," as Ftank O'Hara's more sanguine "Personism: a Manifesto" puts it (O'Hara xiv). The reader-as-lover and lover-as-reader are courted and lost and recovered —but recovered only provisionally, strategically, as propositions (in a sense) that license the poet to write. Like all love stories, this one runs its course in a political and economic context, with Montague poets and Capulet audience feuding from the nineteenth century on. But one era's mimesis turns up as trope in the next—so courtly love, so, if Julian Jaynes is to be believed, the invocation of the Muse—and it is the tepresentational drama that concerns me here, more than actual social representations.2 (I will, as Emerson asks in "Love," "study the sentiment as it appeared in hope and not in history" [Emerson 328].) In any case, every explication of literature presupposes some Arizona Quarterly Volume 47 Number 4, Winter 1991 Copyright © 1991 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 0004- 1610 86Ene Sehnger theory of the writing subject; and when these three American poets write about love, they do so "theoretically," responding to the threat of transcendental loneliness, ofTranscendentalist solipsism. The question of communication and communion through verse is revealed as at once philosophically, psychologically, and practically fraught. If when I say "I" I lock horns with a dilemma, my position is no less difficult when "I" am calling "you. " The bulk of my essay will be devoted to a reading of Hart Crane's "Voyages. " While the plot of these poems is often taken to be autobiographical , the story of a failed romance between Crane and his lover Emil Opffer, it can also be read as a plot for the love poem as a genre. From the gesture ofwarning that ushers us in, through its hymns to the beloved and to the lovers' union, to its failed attempts to hold them together and its final turn for solace, not to the other person, but to poetry itself, "Voyages" argues that the "imaged Word," not the Incarnate , is the only beloved the poet can truly know.3 The force and importance of this drama—its progression from confidence in the poem's underwriting communion to anxiety over its possible violence against both selfor other, and consequent betrayal ofeven the poet's most basic hopes for communication—resonates with both earlier and later authots , stands at the mid-point of a tradition in American love poetry I can only hint at hete.4 Let me set the stage, then, briefly, with Emerson and Whitman. John Ashbery will bring the curtain down. "Marriage (in what is called the spiritual world) is impossible," declares Emerson in "Experience," "because of the inequality between every subject and every object" (Emerson 487-88). In essays like "Love," "Friendship," "Experience," and "Illusions," which set out his fullest sense of the possibility (or impossibility) of social relations, he all but precludes the claims for communion and community Whitman will soon make. "In strictness," the essayist declares, the soul does not respect men as it respects itself. In strict science all persons underlie the same condition of an infinite remoteness. ... I cannot choose but rely on my own poverty more than on your wealth. I cannot make your consciousness Hart Crane's "Voyages"87 tantamount to mine. ... I cannot deny it, O friend, that the vast shadow of the Phenomenal includes thee also in its pied and painted immensity,—thee, also, compared with whom all else is shadow. Thou art not Being, as Truth is, as Justice is,— thou art not my soul, but a picture and an effigy ofthat. (Emetson 343-44) To this less-deceived Idealist the subject exists, is conscious, self-present...