Hart Crane: Contribution as American Poet

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      Hart Crane (1899-1932) was born in Ohio but he spent most of his life in New York. He had an agony of suspense between angrily rejecting and struggling to accept the world about him. He denounced college, business, commerce and the vulgarity of America. Yet, he saw like Scott FitzGerald, in America’s vast meretricious beauty a power of Ohio, be grew up in Cleveland and came to hate the Mid-west and all it stood for bis mind. As a young man, he was deeply affected by the bad marriage of his parents, whose eventual separation widened even further fissure between himself and his father. He repudiated his father’s candy business and gravitated New York drifting through various odd jobs as a clerk, salesman and mechanic. Often he made visits to the West Indies sugar plantations of his mother’s family.

      By 1922, Crane was settled in New York barely living on his earnings as an advertising writer. With all troubles of life, he began to write poetry at the age of thirteen. He immersed himself in the avant-grade company of the people who were closely associated with such little magazines as The Seventh Arts and The Little Review. White Buildings (1926), the first of two books, he published did little to win him general recognition although it was hailed by the cognoscenti. He attempted to write poetry whose images and metaphors would make their own relationships and meanings. Like Emily Dickinson, he used words in an unaccustomed and startling ways. To many readers, much of his poetry remains obscure.

      Hart Crane left striking poems, including an epic, The Bridge (1930) which was inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge, in which he ambitiously attempted to review the American cultural experience and recast it in affirmative terms. Begun in 1923, it seeks to present an affirmative, epic version of America. New York’s Brooklyn Bridge is its central image. In his prefatory ‘Poem’ Crane describes the bridge as both ‘harp and alter’ which ‘lend a myth of God to God’; and he returns to this affirmative vision in ‘Atlantis’ in the final part of the sequence. In the intervening seven sections, however, he explores the negative as well as positive aspects of the American experience which are symbolized by literary and historical figures, geographical features, and place names, and technological inventions. In the section entitled “Powhatan’s Daughter” for example, the Indian prince Pocahontas comes to represent the wild beauty of the American landscape in a subsection entitled. ‘The River’. The Mississippi river is transformed into natural force fusing history with eternal time; and in the ‘The Tunnel’ the New York subway becomes a hellish underworld haunted by the ghost of Edgar Alan Poe.

      Hart Crane luscious, over-heated poetic style works best in short poems such as “Voyages” (1923) and “At Melville’s Tomb” (1926), whose ending is a suitable epitaph for Crane:

“Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.”

      Crane Collected Poems was published in 1933- Strongly influenced by French symbolism and by T.S. Eliot he produced relatively a brief body of poetry which received considerable critical attention. Crane determined to be the modern voice of that inarticulate yet fantastic complex that is America. In opposition to the repudiation of Eliot and his followers, he tried to express the vision that transcends the brutality, vulgarity and commercialism of America. He conceived of a nation as modern day wasteland of the western civilization. At the end, he, being tormented by the sense of having understood the nullity of life, and at last committed suicide at 33 by leaping into the sea.

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