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Hart Crane

Hart Crane on "Black Tambourine" to Gorham Munson (1921): "The Word 'mid-kingdom' is perhaps the key word to what ideas there are in it. The poem is a description and bundle of insinuations, suggestions bearing on the Negro's place somewhere between man and beast. That is why Aesop is brought in, etc.,--the popular conception of Negro romance, the tambourine on the wall. The value of the poem is only, to me, in what a painter would call its 'tactile' quality,--an entirely aesthetic feature. A propagandist for either side of the Negro question could find anything he wanted to in it. My only declaration in it is that I find the Negro (in the popular mind) sentimentally or brutally 'placed' in this midkingdom" (58).

To G.M. (June 12, 1921): "I have reached such blind alleys and found no way out of them that there is nothing at present for me to do but laugh a little and endure--which I hope to do" (59).

To G.M. about Josephson (September 19, 1921): "He seems afraid to use any emotion in his poetry,--merely observation and sensation,--and because I call such work apt to become thin, he thinks me sloppy and stupid,--as no doubt I am."

The Letters of Hart Crane, 1919-1932. Ed. Brom Weber. Berkeley: U of California P, 1965.

Black Tambourine

The interests of a black man in a cellar
Mark tardy judgment on the world's closed door.
Gnats toss in the shadow of a bottle,
And a roach spans a crevice in the floor.

Aesop, driven to pondering, found
Heaven with the tortoise and the hare;
Fox brush and sow ear top his grave
And mingling incantations in the air.

The black man, forlorn in the cellar,
Wanders in some mid-kingdom, dark, that lies,
Between his tambourine, stuck on the wall,
And, in Africa, a carcass quick with flies.


We make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We well sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

To G.M. on "Chaplinesque" (October 6, 1921): "I have made that 'infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing' of Eliot's into the symbol of the kitten. I feel that, from my standpoint, the pantomime of Charlie represents fairly well the futile gesture of the poet in U.S.A. to day, perhaps elsewhere too. And yet, the heart lives on" (66).

To William Wright (October 17, 1921): "I can only apologize by saying that if my work seems needlessly sophisticated it is because I am only interested in adding what seems to me something really new to what has been written. Unless one has some new, intensely personal viewpoint to record, say on the eternal feelings of love, and the suitable personal idiom to employ in the act, I say, why write about it? Nine chances out of ten, if you know where in the past to look, you will find words already written in the more-or-less exact tongue of your soul. And the complaint to be made against nine out of ten poets is just this,--that you are apt to find their sentiments much better expressed perhaps four hundred years past" (67). "I admit to a slight leaning toward the esoteric, and am perhaps not to be taken seriously. I am fond of things of great fragility, and also and especially of the kind of poetry John Donne represents, a dark musky, brooding, speculative vintage, at once sensual and spiritual, and singing rather the beauty of experience than innocence" (67-68). Of "Chaplinesque" (inspired by The Kid): "Poetry, the human feelings, 'the kitten', is so crowded out of the humdrum, rushing, mechanical scramble of today that the man who would preserve them must duck and camouflage for dear life to keep them or keep himself from annihilation" (68).

To G.M. (November 26, 1921) On Donne, Webster, Marlowe, now Ben Jonson: "The fact is, I can find nothing in modern work to come up to the verbal richness, irony and emotion of these folks, and I would like to let them influence me as much as they can in the interpretation of modern moods,--somewhat as Eliot has so beautifully done" (71). "The problem of form becomes harder and harder for me every day....Oh! it is hard! One must be drenched in words, literally soaked with them to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment" (71).

To Charmion Wiegand (May 6, 1922): "The people I am closest to in English are Yeats, Eliot, Pound, and the dear great Elizabethans like Marlowe, Webster, Donne and Drayton, whom I never weary of. I've lately been enjoying Melville's Moby Dick, however" (86).

To Allen Tate (May 16, 1922): "The poetry of negation is beautiful--alas, too dangerously so for one of my mind. But I am trying to break away from it. Perhaps this is useless, perhaps it is silly--but one does have joys. The vocabulary of damnations and prostrations has been developed at the expense of these other moods, however, so that it is hard to dance in proper measure. Let us invent on idiom for the proper transposition of jazz into words! Something clean, sparkling, elusive!" (89).

To A.T. (June 12, 1922) on T. S. Eliot: "I flatter myself a little lately that I have discovered a safe tangent to strike which, if I can possibly explain the position,--goes through him toward a different goal....In his own realm Eliot presents us with an absolute impasse, yet oddly enough, he can be utilized to lead us to, intelligently point to, other positions and 'pastures new.' Having absorbed him enough we can trust ourselves as never before, in the air or on the sea. I, for instance, would like to leave a few of his 'negations' behind me, risk the realm of the obvious more, in quest of new sensations, humeurs" (90).

To G.M. (ca June 18, 1922): "You know I live for work,--for poetry. I shall do my best work later on when I am about 35 or 40. The imagination is the only thing worth a damn. Lately I have grown terribly isolated, and every egoist....If I could afford wine every evening I might do more" (92).

To William Wright (December 24, 1922): The age--"A period that is loose at all ends, without apparent direction of any sort. In some ways the most amazing age there ever was. Appalling and dull at the same time" (110).

To G.M. (December 5, 1924): "To a certain extent, as Wyndham Lewis says, one must be broken up to live. Which I defend myself by interpreting--the artist must have a certain amount of 'confusion' to bring into form. But that's not the whole story, either" (196).

To G.M. (January 5, 1923): "There is no one writing in English who can command so much respect, to my mind, as Eliot. However, I take Eliot as a point of departure toward an almost complete reverse of direction. His pessimism is amply justified, in his own case. But I would apply as much of his erudition and technique as I can absorb and assemble toward a more positive, or (if [I] must put it so in a sceptical age) ecstatic goal. I should not think of this if a kind of rhythm and ecstasy wore not (at odd moments, and rare!) a very real thing to me. I feel that Eliot ignores certain spiritual events and possibilities as real and powerful now as, say, in the time of Blake. Certainly the man has dug the ground and buried hope as deep and direfully as it can ever be done. He has outclassed Baudelaire with a devastating humor that the earlier poet lacked" (114-15).

"The imagination spans beyond despair,

Outpacing bargain, vocable and prayer."

To A.T. (February 12, 1923): Comparing Allen Tate to Gertrude Stein: "You succeed much better than she in accomplishing what is her avowed aim--to split up lyrical or picture-word sequences into pieces in the same way that Cubists do in painting. She is entertaining only at the expense of all coherence, whereas you break things up into sharp impressions and also preserve the outlines of the scattered pieces" (122).

To G.M. (February 18, 1923): On The Bridge: "It is just beginning to take the least outline,--and the more outline the conception of the thing takes,--the more its final difficulties appal me. All this preliminary thought has to result, of course, in some channel forms or mould into which I throw myself at white heat. Very roughly, it concerns a mystical synthesis of 'America.' History and fact, location, etc., all have to be transfigured into abstract form that would almost function independently of its subject matter. The initial impulses of 'our people' will have to be gathered up toward the climax of the bridge, symbol of our constructive future, our unique identity, in which is included also our scientific hopes and achievements of the future. The mystic portent of all this is already flocking through my mind (when I say this I should say 'the mystic possibilities,' but that is all that's worth announcing, anyway) but the actual statement of the thing, the marshalling of the forces, will take me months at best; and I may have to give it up entirely before that; it may be too impossible an ambition. But if I do succeed, such a waving of banners, such ascent of towers, such dancing, etc., will never before have been put down on paper! The form will be symphonic, something like "F and H" with its treatment of varied content, and it will probably approximate the same length in lines" (124-25).

"The field of possibilities literally glitters all around one with the perception and vocabulary to pick out significant details and digest them into something emotional" (125).

To Alfred Stieglitz (July 4, 1923): "The city is a place of 'brokenness,' of drama; but when a certain development in this intensity is reached a new stage is created, or must be, arbitrarily, or there is a foreshortening, a loss and a premature disintegration of experience" (138).

"I have to combat every day those really sincere people, but limited, who deny the superior logic of metaphor in favor of their perfect sums, divisions and subtractions. They cannot go a foot unless to merely catch up with some predetermined and set boundaries, nor can they realize that they do nothing but walk ably over an old track bedecked with all kinds of signposts and 'championship records.' Nobody minds their efforts, which frequently amount to a great deal,--but I object to their system of judgment being so regally applied to what I'm interested in doing. Such a cramping cannot be reconciled with the work which you have done, and which I feel myself a little beginning to do. The great energies about us cannot be transformed that way into a higher quality of life, and by perfecting our sensibilities, response and actions, we are always contributing more than we can realize (rationalize) at the time. We answer them a little vaguely, first, because our ends are forever unaccomplished, and because, secondly, our work is self-explanatory enough, if they could 'see' it. I nearly go mad with the intense but always misty realization of what can be done if potentialities are fully freed, released" (138-39).

To Charlotte Rychtarik (July 21, 1923): "The true idea of God is the only thing that can give happiness,--and that is the identification of yourself with all of life. It is a fierce and humble happiness, both at the same time, and I am hoping that my Mother will find that feeling (for it need not be a conscious thought) at some time or other. She must accept everything and as it comes (as we all must) before she can come to such happiness, glorious sorrow, or whatever you want to call it" (140).

To Charlotte Rychtarik (September 3, 1923): "I want to keep saying 'YES' to everything and never be beaten a moment, and I shall, of course, never be really beaten" (148).

To His Father (January 12, 1924): "I went to the country because I had not had a vacation for several years, was rather worn with the strain of working at high speed as one does in such high geared agencies, and above all because I wanted the precious time to do some real thinking and writing, the most important things to me in my life." "You will perhaps be righteously a little bewildered at all these statements about my enthusiasm about my writing and my devotion to that career in life" (169). "If I am able to keep on in my present development, strenuous as it is, you may live to see the name 'Crane' stand for something where literature is talked about, not only in New York but in London and abroad" (170). "Try to imagine working for the pure love of simply making something beautiful,--something that maybe can't be sold or used to help sell anything else, but that is simply a communication between man and man, a bond of understanding and human enlightenment--which is what a real work of art is. If you do that, then maybe you will see why I am not so foolish after all to have followed what seems sometimes only a faint star" (170). "I only ask to leave behind me something that the future may find valuable, and it takes a bit of sacrifice sometimes in order to give the thing that you know is in yourself and worth giving. I shall make every sacrifice toward that end" (170-71).

To His Mother (February 3, 1924): "O'Neill...recently told a mutual friend of ours that he thinks me the most important writer of all in the group of younger men with whom I am generally classed" (174).

To A.T. (March 1, 1924): "It's encouraging that some people say they get at least some kind of impact from my poems, even when they are honest in admitting considerable mystification. 'Make my dark poem light, and light,' however, is the text I chose from Donne some time ago as my direction. I have always been working hard for a more perfect lucidity, and it never pleases me to be taken as wilfully obscure or esoteric" (176).

To Gorham Munson (March 17, 1926): "Poetry, in so far as the metaphysics of any absolute knowledge extends, is simply the concrete evidence of the experience of a recognition (knowledge if you like). It can give you a ratio of fact and experience, and in this sense it is both perception and thing perceived, according as it approaches a significant articulation or not. This is its reality, its fact, being. When you attempt to ask more of poetry,--the fact of man's relationship to a hypothetical god, be it Osiris, Zeus or Indra, you will get as variant terms even from the abstract terminology of philosophy as you will from poetry; whereas poetry, without attempting to logically enunciate such a problem or its solution, may well give you the real connective experience, the very 'sign manifest' on which rests the assumption of a godhead" (237). "I'm perfectly aware of my wholesale lack of knowledge. But as Allen said, what exactly do you mean by 'knowledge'? When you ask for exact factual data (a graphic map of eternity?), ethical morality or moral classifications, etc., from poetry--you not only limit its goal, you ask its subordination to science, philosophy" (237-38). "Science (ergo all exact knowledge and its instruments of operation) is in perfect antithesis to poetry. (Painting, architecture, music, as well). It operates from an exactly opposite polarity, and it may equate with poetry, but when it does so its statement of such is in an entirely different terminology" (238). "The tragic quandary (or agon) of the modern world derives from the paradoxes that an inadequate system of rationality forces on the living consciousness" (238). "My so far as it was truly poetic,--would avoid the employment of abstract tags, formulations of experience in factual terms, etc,--it would necessarily express its concepts in the more direct terms of physical-psychic experience. If not, it must by so much lose its impact and become simply categorical" (239).

To Samuel Loveman (February 5, 1928): "I'm terribly excited about the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Winters loaned me his copy recently (I had never read any of Hopkins before) and I have discovered that I am not as original in some of my stylisms as I had thought I was....I've never been quite so enthusiastic about any modern before" (317). To Waldo Frank (March 4, 1928): "If I can't send you a new poem of my own I can at least send you a better new-old one ["Pied Beauty"] (for I don't think you have yet read him) by Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford) now out of print--a Victorian, posthumously printed, whose work has been a revelation to me" (319).

To Herbert Weinstock (April 22, 1930): "With more time and familiarity with The Bridge you will come to envisage it more as one poem with a clearer and more integrated unity and development than was at first evident....The Bridge is at least as complicated in its structure and inferences as The Wasteland--perhaps more so" (350).

To Allen Tate (July 13, 1930): The fact that you posit The Bridge at the end of a tradition of romanticism may prove to have been an accurate prophecy, but I don't yet feel that such a statement can be taken as a foregone conclusion. A great deal of romanticism may persist--of the sort to deserve serious consideration, I mean" (253). "This personal note is doubtless responsible for what you term as sentimentality in my attitude toward Whitman. It's true that my rhapsodic address to him in The Bridge exceeds any exact evaluation of the man. I realized that in the midst of the composition. But since you and I hold such divergent prejudices regarding the value of the materials and events that W. responded to, and especially as you, like so many others, never seem to have read his Democratic Vistas and other of his statements sharply decrying the materialism, industrialism, etc., of which you name him the guilty and hysterical spokesman, there isn't much use in my tabulating the qualified, yet persistent reasons I have for my admiration of him, and my allegiance to the positive and universal tendencies implicit in nearly all his best work" (354).

Crane, Hart. Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose. Ed. Brom Weber. New York: Anchor Books, 1966.

To Otto H. Kahn (September 12, 1927, Patterson, NY): "Even with the torturing heat of my sojourn in Cuba I was able to work faster than before or since then, in America. The 'foreignness' of my surroundings stimulated me to the realization of natively American materials and viewpoints in myself not hitherto suspected, and in one month I was able to do more work than I had done in the three previous years" (254).

To Harriet Monroe (1926): "As a poet I may very possibly be more interested in the so-called illogical impingements of the connotations of words on the consciousness (and their combinations and interplay in metaphor on this basis) than I am interested in the preservation of their logically rigid significations at the cost of limiting my subject matter and perceptions involved in the poem" (234). "Its paradox, of course, is that its apparent illogic operates so logically in conjunction with its context in the poem as to establish its claim to another logic, quite independent of the original definition of the word or phrase or image thus employed. It implies (this inflection of language) a previous or prepared receptivity to its stimulus on the part of the reader. The reader's sensibility simply responds by identifying this inflection of experience with some event in his own history or perceptions--or rejects it altogether. The logic of metaphor is so organically entrenched in pure sensibility that it can't be thoroughly traced or explained outside of historical sciences, like philology and anthropology" (235). "In poetry the rationale of metaphor belongs to another order of experience than science" (237). People accumulate "a sufficient series of perceive the relations between" terms of a metaphor (237). "If the poet is to be held completely to the already evolved and exploited sequences of imagery and logic--what field of added consciousness and increased perceptions (the actual province of poetry, if not lullabies) can be expected when one has to relatively return to the alphabet every breath or so? (237). "In the minds of people who have sensitively read, seen, and experienced a great deal, isn't there a terminology something like short-hand as compared to usual description and dialectics, which the artist ought to be right in trusting as a reasonable connective agent toward fresh concepts, more inclusive evaluations? (237-38).

Garden Abstract

The apple on its bough is her desire,--

Shining suspension, mimic of the sun.

The bough has caught her breath up, and her voice,

Dumbly articulate in the slant and rise

Of branch on branch above her, blurs her eyes.

She is prisoner of the tree and its green fingers.

And so she comes to dream herself the tree,

The wind possessing her, weaving her young veins,

Holding her to the sky and its quick blue,

Drowning the fever of her hands in sunlight.

She has no memory, nor fear, nor hope

Beyond the grass and shadows at her feet.

Hart Crane: "meticulous, past midnight in clear rime,/ Infrangible and lonely." "Voyages--V"

infrangible--unbreakalbe; inviolable.

The Broken Tower

The bell-rope that gathers God at dawn

Dispatches me as though I dropped down the knell

Of a spent day--to wander the cathedral lawn

From pit to crucifix, feet chill ons steps from hell.

Have you not heard, have you not seen that corps

Of shadows in the tower, whose shoulders sway

Antiphonal carillons launched before

The stars are caught and hived in the sun's ray?

The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;

And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave

Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered socre

Of broken intervals...And I, their sexton slave!

Oval encyclicals in canyons heaping

The imapsse high with choir. Banked voices slain!

Pagodas, campaniles with reveilles outleaping--

O terraced echoes prostrate on the plain!...

And so it was I entered the broken world

To trace the visionary company of love, its voice

An instant in the wind (I know not whiter hurled)

But not for long to hold each desperate choice.

My word I poured. But was it cognate, scored

Of that tribunal monarch of the air

Whose thigh embronzes earth, strikes crystal Word

In wounds pledged once to hope--cleft to despair?

The steep encroachments of my blood left me

No answer (could blood hold such a lofty tower

As flings the question true?)--or is it she

Whose sweet mortality stirs latent power?--

And through whose pulse I hear, counting the strokes

My veins recall and add, revived and sure

The angelus of wars my chest evokes:

What I hold healed, original now, and pure...

And builds, within, a tower that is not stone

(Not stone can jacket heaven)--but slip

Of pebbles,--visible wings of silence sown

In azure circles, widening as they dip

The matrix of the heart, lift down the eye

That shrines the quiet lake and swells a tower...

The commodious, tall decorum of that sky

Unseals her earth, and lifts love in its shower.


"As to technical considerations: the motivation of the poem must be derived from the implicit emotional dynamics of the materials used, and the terms of expression employed are often selected less for their logical (literal) significances than for their associational meanings."

--Hart Crane: "General Aims and Theories"

"At Cuban dusk the eyes
Walking the straight road toward thunder--
This dry road silvering toward the shadow of the quarry
--It is at times as though the eyes burned hard and glad
And did not take the goat path quivering to the right,
Wide of the mountain--thence to tears and sleep--
But went on into marble that does not weep."