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Hart Crane

1899-1932

American poet

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Hart Crane

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 
Hart Crane
Born July 21, 1899
Garrettsville, Ohio
Died April 27, 1932 (aged 32)
At sea: off the Florida coast
Occupation Poet
Nationality American
Period 1916-1932
Literary movement American Modernism,Romanticism
Notable work(s) The Bridge
 
 

Harold Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 – April 27, 1932) was an American poet. Finding both inspiration and provocation in the poetryof T. S. Eliot, Crane's poetry was difficult and often archaic in language, and sought to express something more than the ironic despair that Crane found in Eliot's poetry. Though frequently condemned as being difficult beyond comprehension Crane has proved in the long run to be one of the most influential poets in English language of his generation.

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 Life and work

Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio. His father, Clarence, was a successful Ohio businessman who had made his fortune in the candy business with chocolate bars. He originally held the patent for the Life Saver, but sold his interest to another businessman just before the candy became popular. Crane’s mother and father were constantly fighting, and early in April, 1917, they divorced[1]. It was shortly thereafter that Hart dropped out of high school and headed to New York City. Between 1917 and 1924 he moved back and forth between New York and Cleveland, working as an advertising copywriter and a worker in his father’s factory. From Crane's letters, it appears that New York was where he felt most at home, and much of his poetry is set there.

Crane was gay. As a boy, he had been seduced by an older man.[2] He associated his sexuality with his vocation as a poet. Raised in the Christian Science tradition of his mother, he never ceased to view himself as a social pariah. However, as poems such as "Repose of Rivers" make clear, he felt that this sense of alienation was necessary in order for him to attain the visionary insight that formed the basis for his poetic work.

Throughout the early 1920s, small but well-respected literary magazines published some of Crane’s lyrics, gaining him, among the avant-garde, a respect that White Buildings(1926), his first volume, ratified and strengthened. White Buildings contains many of Crane’s best lyrics, including "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen," and a powerful sequence of erotic poems called "Voyages," written while he was falling in love with Emil Opffer, a Danish merchant mariner.

"Faustus and Helen" was part of a larger artistic struggle to meet modernity with something more than despair. Crane identified T. S. Eliot with that kind of despair, and while he acknowledged the greatness of The Waste Land, he also said it was "so damned dead," an impasse, and a refusal to see "certain spiritual events and possibilities." Crane’s self-appointed work would be to bring those spiritual events and possibilities to poetic life, and so create "a mystical synthesis of America." This ambition would finally issue in The Bridge (1930), where the Brooklyn Bridge is both the poem’s central symbol and its poetic starting point.

The Bridge received poor reviews by and large, but worse was Crane’s own sense of his work's failure. It was during the late '20s, while he was finishing The Bridge, that his drinking, always a problem, became notably worse.

While on a Guggenheim Fellowship in Mexico in 1931-32, his drinking continued while he suffered from bouts of alternating depression and elation. His only heterosexual relationship - with Peggy Cowley, the soon to be ex-wife of his friend Malcolm Cowley, who joined Crane in the south when the Cowleys agreed to divorce - began here, and "The Broken Tower," one of his last published poems, emerges from that affair. Crane still felt himself a failure, though, in part because he recommenced homosexual activity in spite of his relationship with Cowley. Just before noon on 27 April 1932, while onboard the steamship SS Orizaba[3] heading back to New York from Mexico - right after he was beaten for making sexual advances to a male crew member, which may have appeared to confirm his idea that one could not be happy as a homosexual - he committed suicide by jumping into the Gulf of Mexico. Although he had been drinking heavily and left no suicide note, witnesses believed Crane's intentions to be suicidal, as several reported that he exclaimed "Goodbye, everybody!" before throwing himself overboard.

His body was never recovered. A marker on his father's tombstone in Garrettsville includes the inscription, "Harold Hart Crane 1899-1932 LOST AT SEA".[4]

 Poetics

Crane's critical effort - like Keats and Rilke - is most pronounced in his letters: he corresponded regularly with Allen Tate, Yvor Winters, and Gorham Munson, and shared critical dialogues with Eugene O'Neill, William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings,Sherwood Anderson, Kenneth Burke, Waldo Frank, Harriet Monroe, Marianne Moore, andGertrude Stein.

Most serious work on Crane begins with his letters, selections of which are available in many editions of his poetry; his letters to Munson, Tate, Winters, and his patron, Otto Hermann Kahn, have been particularly valuable. Even his two most famous stylistic defenses emerged from correspondences: his Emersonian "General Aims and Theories" (1925) was written to urge Eugene O’Neill’s critical foreword to White Buildings, then passed around among friends, yet unpublished during Crane's life; and the famous "Letter to Harriet Monroe" (1926) was part of an exchange for the publication of "At Melville's Tomb" in Poetry.

 The 'Logic of Metaphor'

As with Eliot's "objective correlative," a certain vocabulary haunts Crane criticism, his "logic of metaphor" being perhaps the most vexed. His most quoted formulation is in the circulated, if long unpublished, "General Aims and Theories":

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) significance than for their associational meanings. Via this and their metaphorical inter-relationships, the entire construction of the poem is raised on the organic principle of a 'logic of metaphor,' which antedates our so-called pure logic, and which is the genetic basis of all speech, hence consciousness and thought-extension.[5]

There is also some mention of it, though it is not so much presented as a criticalneologism, in his letter to Harriet Monroe: "...The logic of metaphor is so organically entrenched in pure sensibility that it can't be thoroughly traced or explain outside of historical sciences, like philology and anthropology...."[6]

L. S. Dembo's influential study of The Bridge, Hart Crane's Sanskrit Charge (1960), reads this 'logic' well within the familiar rhetoric of the Romantics:

The 'logic of metaphor' was simply the written form of the 'bright logic' of the imagination, the crucial sign stated, the Word made words.... As practiced, the logic of metaphor theory is reducible to a fairly simple linguistic principle: the symbolized meaning of an image takes precedence over its literal meaning; whether or not the vehicle of an image makes sense, the reader is expected to grasp its tenor.[7]


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