Monday, April 27, 2009

Take Another Little Piece of my Hart Crane

As promised, a post on Hart Crane, commemorating the anniversary of his death.

Of course, I know nothing about Crane, so I had to call in the big guns. Today's post is brought to you by my predecessor and intellectual superior, Jamie Ward.

Ward used to cover police and fire for The News-Herald. Now, he is the sports editor for The Geauga Maple Leaf. He enjoys Dickens, a stiff gin & tonic, and reminding people he is the greatest basketball player they know.

And now, his treatise:

Hart Crane was a romantic homosexual poet whose poetry is highly metaphorical and who uses a lot of allusions to other poets. His father invented the Lifesaver, but despite his family's wealth Crane's desire to be a poet was never embraced by his father and so he never benefited from their money. His mother was a manic depressant after his parent's divorce. He died at a young age, tragically, and was the reason Harold Bloom became a literary critic, as Bloom read Crane at a very young age. He rejected T.S. Eliot, yet Eliot was probably his biggest influence. He was an alcoholic who committed suicide at the age 33.

I want to give you two pieces of information, one on which I labored for a few hours to find online to no avail but then found on my bookshelf. The other is from Philip Horton on Crane's suicide, which took place on this day 77 years ago.

Crane in his General Aims and Theories:

These dynamics often result, I'm told, in certain initial difficulties in understanding my poems. But on the other hand I find them at times the only means possible for expressing certain concepts in any forceful or direct way whatever. To cite two examples: when, in Voyages (II), I speak of "adagios of islands," the reference is to the motion of a boat through islands clustered thickly, the rhythm of the motion, etc. And it seems a much more direct and creative statement than any more logical employment of words such as "coasting slowly through the islands," besides ushering in a whole world of music. Similarly in Faustus and Helen (III) the speed and tense altitude of an aeroplane are much better suggested by the idea of "nimble blue plateaus" implying the aeroplane and its speed against a contrast of stationary elevated earth.

Although the statement is pseudo in relation to formal logic - it is completely logical in relation to the truth of the imagination, and there is expressed a concept of speed and space that could not be handled so well in other terms.

And then Horton:

When the ship docked in the harbor of Havana on the morning of the twenty-fifth to lie over for the day, Crane set out alone to make the round of his favorite bars and cafes. Possibly, he took luncheon at La Diana ... Little wonder that he was drunk when he returned to the ship that evening, a bottle of rum under his arm with which to pass the night!

As the ship weighed anchor, he set out to look for Miss Baird, whom he discovered at last in her cabin, where she was being attended by a stewardess for a painful burn on her hand, caused by a packet of ignited matches. For some time Crane lingered beside her bed, offering clumsy ministrations and sympathies, until at length Miss Baird asked him to leave.

Later, however, as his drinking continued, he returned time after time, now overwhelming her with endearments, now breaking out into harsh and bitter abuse, apparently without any provocation or aim beyond relieving the intolerable suffering again seething within him.

He seemed not even to hear her pleas to be left alone. Exhausted at last by his persistent violence, she summoned the steward and demanded that Crane be locked in his cabin. Late that night when he eventually broke out and began to prowl the decks, it was almost inevitable that his steps should lead him, as though automatically retracing a well-known pattern, down to the sailor's quarters. What happened there was never ascertained, though Crane's own story the following morning that he had been beaten and robbed would have been a likely enough consequence.

The next morning, the 26th of April, 1932, the ship was sailing just off sight of the Florida coast, ten miles off Jupiter Light. Crane, awakening rather late, threw on a light topcoat over his pyjamas and sought out Miss Baird to ask her to have breakfast with him in his stateroom. He told her of experience in the seamen's quarters, without, however, mentioning the final episode on deck and complained bitterly of the brutal treatment he had received.

They part of a bit.

... Crane once more knocked on her door, and entering, said that he wanted to say goodbye. Too preoccupied with what she was doing at the moment to fully comprehend the significance of his remark, Miss Baird asked him to get dressed and meet her for luncheon in a half hour. Without replying, he went out, shutting the door behind him, and ascended directly to the promenade deck. The sea was mild, and the sun, striking against the gentle motion of its surface, polished the delicate blue with sudden ripples of fire.

Heedless of the curious glances that followed his progress along the deck, Crane walked quickly to the stern of the ship, and scarcely pausing to slip his coat from his shoulders, vaulted over the rail onto the boiling wake.

This was written in 1926. It takes a reading or two, I think, but it one of the more accessible poems:

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.

-- Jamie Ward

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