Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 – April 27, 1932) was an American
poet. Finding both inspiration and provocation in the poetry of T. S.
Eliot, Crane wrote modernist poetry that was difficult, highly
stylized, and ambitious in its scope. In his most ambitious work, The
Bridge, Crane sought to write an epic poem, in the vein of The Waste
Land, that expressed a more optimistic view of modern, urban culture
than the one that he found in Eliot's work. In the years following his
suicide at the age of 32, Crane has been hailed by playwrights, poets,
and literary critics alike (including Robert Lowell, Derek Walcott,
Tennessee Williams, and Harold Bloom), as being one of the most
influential poets of his generation.
1 Life and work
2.1 The "Logic of Metaphor"
2.3 The "Homosexual Text"
5 See also
8 Further reading
8.2 Selected criticism
9 External links
Life and work
Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, the son of Clarence A.
Crane and Grace Edna Hart. His father was a successful Ohio
businessman who invented the
Life Savers candy and held the patent,
but sold it for $2,900 before the brand became popular. He made
other candy and accumulated a fortune from the candy business with
chocolate bars. Crane's mother and father were constantly fighting,
and early in April, 1917, they divorced.[notes 1] Hart dropped out of
East High School in
Cleveland during his junior year and left for New
York City, promising his parents he would attend Columbia University
later. His parents, in the middle of divorce proceedings, were upset.
Crane took various copywriting jobs and jumped between friends'
apartments in Manhattan. 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.
I am not ready for repentance;
Nor to match regrets. For the moth
Bends no more than the still
Imploring flame. And tremorous
In the white falling flakes
The only worth all granting.
Excerpted from "Legend"
White Buildings (1926)
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
"Voyages", a powerful sequence of erotic poems. They were 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 characterized by 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".
Crane returned to New York in 1928, living with friends and taking
temporary jobs as a copywriter or living off unemployment and the
charity of friends and his father. For a time, he was living in
Brooklyn at 77 Willow Street until his lover, Opffer, invited him
to live in Opffer's father's home at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn
Heights. Crane was overjoyed at the views the location afforded him.
He wrote his mother and grandmother in the spring of 1924:
Just imagine looking out your window directly on the East River with
nothing intervening between your view of the Statue of Liberty, way
down the harbour, and the marvelous beauty of
Brooklyn Bridge close
above you on your right! All of the great new skyscrapers of lower
Manhattan are marshaled directly across from you, and there is a
constant stream of tugs, liners, sail boats, etc in procession before
you on the river! It's really a magnificent place to live. This
section of Brooklyn is very old, but all the houses are in splendid
condition and have not been invaded by foreigners...
His ambition to synthesize America was expressed in The Bridge (1930),
intended to be an uplifting counter to Eliot's The Waste Land. The
Brooklyn Bridge is both the poem's central symbol and its poetic
starting point. Crane found what a place to start his synthesis in
Brooklyn. Arts patron Otto H. Kahn gave him $2,000 to begin work on
the epic poem. When he wore out his welcome at the Opffers', Crane
Paris in early 1929, but failed to leave his personal
problems behind. It was during the late 1920s, while he was
finishing The Bridge, that his drinking, always a problem, became
Paris in February 1929, Harry Crosby, who with his wife Caresse
Crosby owned the fine arts press Black Sun Press, offered Crane the
use of their country retreat, Le Moulin du Soleil in Ermenonville.
They hoped he could use the time to concentrate on completing The
Bridge. Crane spent several weeks at their estate where he roughed out
a draft of the "Cape Hatteras" section, a key part of his epic
poem. In late June that year, Crane returned from the south of
France to Paris. Harry noted in his journal, "Hart C. back from
Marseilles where he slept with his thirty sailors and he began again
to drink Cutty Sark." Crane got drunk at the Cafe Select and fought
with waiters over his tab. When the
Paris police were called, he
fought with them and was beaten. They arrested and jailed him, fining
him 800 francs. After Hart had spent six days in prison at La
Harry Crosby paid Crane's fine and advanced him money for the
passage back to the United States where he finally finished The
Bridge. The work received poor reviews, and Crane's sense of his
own failure became crushing.
Mexico in 1931–32 on a
Guggenheim Fellowship and his
drinking continued as he suffered from bouts of alternating depression
and elation. When Peggy Cowley, wife of his friend Malcolm Cowley,
agreed to a divorce, she joined Crane. As far as is known, she was his
only heterosexual partner. "The Broken Tower," one of his last
published poems, emerged from that affair. Crane still felt himself a
failure, in part because he recommenced homosexual activity in spite
of his relationship with Cowley.
While on board the steamship Orizaba en route to New York, he was
beaten after making sexual advances to a male crew member. Just
before noon on April 27, 1932,
Hart Crane jumped overboard into the
Gulf of Mexico. Although he had been drinking heavily and left no
suicide note, witnesses believed his 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 at Park Cemetery outside Garrettsville,
Portage County, Ohio includes the inscription, "Harold Hart Crane
1899–1932 lost at sea".
Crane's critical effort, like those of Keats and Rilke, is mostly to
be found 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,
and Gertrude Stein. He was also an acquaintance of H. P. Lovecraft,
who eventually would voice concern over Crane's premature aging due to
alcohol abuse. 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,
are particularly insightful. 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 literary critic
Adam Kirsch has argued that "[Crane has been] a
special case in the canon of American modernism, his reputation never
quite as secure as that of Eliot or Stevens."
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.
There is also some mention of it, though it is not so much presented
as a critical neologism, 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 explained outside of historical
sciences, like philology and anthropology." 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; regardless of whether the
vehicle of an image makes sense, the reader is expected to grasp its
The willows carried a slow sound,
A sarabande the wind mowed on the mead.
I could never remember
That seething, steady leveling of the marshes
Till age had brought me to the sea.
From "Repose of Rivers"
White Buildings (1926)
The publication of
White Buildings was delayed by Eugene O'Neill's
struggle (and eventual failure) to articulate his appreciation in a
foreword to it; and many critics since have used Crane's difficulty as
an excuse for a quick dismissal. Even a young Tennessee Williams,
then falling in love with Crane's poetry, could "hardly understand a
single line—of course the individual lines aren't supposed to be
intelligible. The message, if there actually is one, comes from the
total effect.". It was not lost on Crane, then, that his poetry
was difficult. Some of his best, and practically only, essays
originated as encouraging epistles: explications and stylistic
apologies to editors, updates to his patron, and the variously
well-considered or impulsive letters to his friends. It was, for
instance, only the exchange with
Harriet Monroe at Poetry when she
initially refused to print "At Melville's Tomb" that urged Crane to
describe his "logic of metaphor" in print. But describe it he did,
then complaining that: "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 two? 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?"
Monroe was not impressed, though she acknowledged that others were,
and printed the exchange alongside the poem: "You find me testing
metaphors, and poetic concept in general, too much by logic, whereas I
find you pushing logic to the limit in a painfully intellectual search
for emotion, for poetic motive." In any case, Crane had a
relatively well-developed rhetoric for the defense of his poems; here
is an excerpt from "General Aims and Theories": "New conditions of
life germinate new forms of spiritual articulation. ...the voice of
the present, if it is to be known, must be caught at the risk of
speaking in idioms and circumlocutions sometimes shocking to the
scholar and historians of logic."
The "Homosexual Text"
As a boy, he had a sexual relationship with a man.[notes 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.[original research?]
Recent queer criticism has asserted that it is particularly difficult,
perhaps even inappropriate, to read many of Crane's poems – "The
Broken Tower," "My Grandmother's Love Letters," the "Voyages" series,
and others – without a willingness to look for, and uncover,
homosexual meanings in the text. The prominent queer theorist Tim Dean
argues, for instance, that the obscurity of Crane's style owes itself
partially to the necessities of being a semi-public homosexual – not
quite closeted, but also, as legally and culturally necessary, not
open: "The intensity responsible for Crane's particular form of
difficulty involves not only linguistic considerations but also
culturally subjective concerns. This intensity produces a kind of
privacy that is comprehensible in terms of the cultural construction
of homosexuality and its attendant institutions of privacy."
Thomas Yingling objects to the traditional, New Critical and Eliotic
readings of Crane, arguing that the "American myth criticism and
formalist readings" have "depolarized and normalized our reading of
American poetry, making any homosexual readings seem perverse."
Even more than a personal or political problem, though, Yingling
argues that such "biases" obscure much of what the poems make clear;
he cites, for instance, the last lines of "My Grandmother's Love
White Buildings as a haunting description of
estrangement from the norms of (heterosexual) family life:
Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.
The critic Brian Reed has contributed to a project of critical
reintegration, suggesting that an overemphasis on the sexual biography
of Crane's poetry can skew a broader appreciation of his overall
work. In one example of Reed's approach, he published a close
reading of Crane's lyric poem, "Voyages," (a love poem that Crane
wrote for his lover Emil Opffer) on the
Poetry Foundation website,
analyzing the poem based strictly on the content of the text itself
and not on outside political or cultural matters.
Crane was admired by artists such as Allen Tate, Eugene O'Neill,
Kenneth Burke, Edmund Wilson,
E. E. Cummings
E. E. Cummings and William Carlos
Williams. Although Hart had his sharp critics, among them Marianne
Moore and Ezra Pound, Moore did publish his work, as did T. S. Eliot,
who, moving even further out of Pound's sphere, may have borrowed some
of Crane's imagery for Four Quartets, in the beginning of East Coker,
which is reminiscent of the final section of The River, from The
Important mid-century American poets like
John Berryman and Robert
Lowell cited Crane as a significant influence. Both poets also wrote
about Crane in their poetry. Berryman wrote him one of his famous
elegies in The Dream Songs, and Lowell published his "Words for Hart
Life Studies (1959): "Who asks for me, the Shelley of my
age, / must lay his heart out for my bed and board." Lowell thought
that Crane was the most important American poet of the generation to
come of age in the 1920s, stating that "[Crane] got out more than
anybody else . . . he somehow got New York City; he was at the center
of things in the way that no other poet was." Lowell also described
Crane as being "less limited than any other poet of his generation."
Perhaps most reverently,
Tennessee Williams said that he wanted to be
"given back to the sea" at the "point most nearly determined as the
point at which
Hart Crane gave himself back.". One of Williams's
last plays, a "ghost play" titled "Steps Must Be Gentle," explores
Crane's relationship with his mother.
In a 1991 interview with Antonio Weiss of The
Paris Review, the
Harold Bloom talked about how Crane, along with
William Blake, initially sparked his interest in literature at a very
I was preadolescent, ten or eleven years old. I still remember the
extraordinary delight, the extraordinary force that Crane and Blake
brought to me—in particular Blake's rhetoric in the longer
poems—though I had no notion what they were about. I picked up a
copy of The Collected Poems of
Hart Crane in the Bronx Library. I
still remember when I lit upon the page with the extraordinary trope,
"O Thou steeled Cognizance whose leap commits / The agile precincts of
the lark's return." I was just swept away by it, by the Marlovian
rhetoric. I still have the flavor of that book in me. Indeed it's the
first book I ever owned. I begged my oldest sister to give it to me,
and I still have the old black and gold edition she gave me for my
birthday back in 1942. . .I suppose the only poet of the twentieth
century that I could secretly set above Yeats and Stevens would be
More recently, the American poet
Gerald Stern wrote an essay on Crane
in which he stated, "Some, when they talk about Crane, emphasize his
drinking, his chaotic life, his self-doubt, and the dangers of his
sexual life, but he was able to manage these things, even though he
died at 32, and create a poetry that was tender, attentive, wise, and
radically original." At the conclusion of his essay, Stern writes,
"Crane is always with me, and whatever I wrote, short poem or long,
strange or unstrange—his voice, his tone, his sense of form, his
respect for life, his love of the word, his vision have affected me.
But I don't want, in any way, to exploit or appropriate this amazing
poet whom I am, after all, so different from, he who may be, finally,
the great poet, in English, of the twentieth century." 
Such important affections have made Crane a "poet's poet". Thomas Lux
offered, for instance: "If the devil came to me and said 'Tom, you can
be dead and Hart can be alive,' I'd take the deal in a heartbeat if
the devil promised, when arisen, Hart would have to go straight into
Beyond poetry, Crane's suicide inspired several works of art by noted
artist Jasper Johns, including "Periscope," "Land's End," and "Diver,"
the "Symphony for Three Orchestras" by Elliott Carter (inspired by the
"Bridge") and the painting by
Marsden Hartley "Eight Bells' Folly,
Memorial for Hart Crane." 
Crane is the subject of The Broken Tower, a 2011 American student film
by the actor
James Franco who wrote, directed, and starred in the film
which was the Master thesis project for his MFA in filmmaking at New
York University. He loosely based his script on Paul Mariani's 1999
nonfiction book The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane. Despite
being a student film,
The Broken Tower was shown at the Los Angeles
Film Festival in 2011 and received DVD distribution in 2012 by Focus
Crane appears as a character in Samuel R. Delany's novella "Atlantis:
Model 1924" and
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
The Illuminatus! Trilogy by
Robert Shea and Robert
White Buildings. (1926)
The Bridge. (1930)
The Collected Poems of Hart Crane. Ed.Waldo Frank). Boriswood. (1938)
Hart Crane and Yvor Winters: Their Literary Correspondence. Ed. Thomas
Parkinson. Berkeley: University of California Press (1978)
O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane. New York:
Four Walls Eight Windows. (1997)
The Complete Poems of Hart Crane. Ed. Marc Simon. New York: Liveright.
Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters. Ed. Langdon Hammer.
New York: The Library of America. (2006)
Modernist poetry in English
^ Exact date seems to be April 1st, but is described somewhat
unclearly in Mariani p. 35
Hart Crane was homosexual was by now well known to most of
his friends. He said to Evans that he had been seduced as a boy by an
older man." Rathbone, Belinda. Walker Evans: A Biography. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1995. p. 4
^ a b Referenced in this NY Times article
^ Bloom, Harold. "Introduction." The Complete Poems of Hart Crane. New
York: Liveright, 2001.
^ "Hart Crane." Voice and Visions Video Series. Produced by the New
York Center for Visual History. 1988. 
^ a b c d e f g Lockwood, Brad (April 27, 2011). "On This Day in
History: April 27 'Bridge' Poet Leaps Overboard". Brooklyn Daily
Eagle. Retrieved 2013-07-06.
^ a b "Legend by Hart Crane". The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved
February 2, 2011.
^ Murphy, Russel E. (2007). Critical Companion to T. S. Eliot: A
Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Infobase Publishing.
p. 476. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
^ Altieri, Charles (2009). "Eliot's Impact on Twentieth-Century
Anglo-American Poetry". In Bloom, Harold. T. S. Eliot. Infobase
Publishing. p. 116. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
^ Tóibín, Colm (2008-04-17). "A Great American Visionary". New York
Review of Books. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
^ Edelman, Lee (1987). Transmemberment of Song: Hart Crane's Anatomies
of Rhetoric and Desire. Stanford University Press. p. 179.
^ Fisher, Clive (2002). Hart Crane: A Life. Yale University Press.
p. 384. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
^ a b c d
Poetry Foundation profile
^ Delany, Samuel R. (1996) Longer views: extended essays Wesleyan
University Press, p190 ISBN 0819562939
^ a b "Dictionary of Literary Biography on (Harold) Hart Crane".
BookRags.com. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
^ Mariani (1999) p. 421
^ Holden, Stephen (2012-04-26). "Intoxicated by Language, a Poet Is
Destroyed by Life:
James Franco is
Hart Crane in 'The Broken Tower'".
The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-07-06.
^ Rutledge, Leigh W. (1989). The Gay Fireside Companion. Alyson
Publications, Inc. p. 182.
^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000
Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 10225). McFarland &
Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
^ Untrecker (1969)
^ Kirsch, Adam. "The Mystic Word. The New Yorker. October 9, 2006
^ Hammer (1997) p. 163
^ Hammer (1997) p. 166
^ Dembo (1960) p. 34
^ See article on White Buildings
^ Leverich, Lyle. Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. New York: Crown
Publishers, 1995. p. 162
^ Mariani (1999) p. 191
^ Hammer (1997) p. 281
^ Hammer (1997) p. 282
^ Hammer (2006) p. 164
^ Dean (1996) p. 84
^ Yingling (1990) p. 3
^ Reed (2006)
^ Reed, Brian. "Hart Crane: "Voyages' Archived 2011-02-12 at the
Wayback Machine.". The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
^ Oser, Lee.
T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot and American Poetry. Columbia, MO: University
of Missouri Press, 1998. pp. 112–114.
Hart Crane Biographical Sketch Online
^ Leverich (1995) pp. 9–10
^ The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, V. 6. New York: New Directions,
^ Weiss, Antonio. "Harold Bloom, The Art of Criticism No. 1." The
Paris Review. Spring 1991 No. 118.
^ Stern, Gerald. "The Poem That Changed My Life: On Hart Crane's
'Eternity'". American Poet, Fall 2011, Issue 41.
^ Davis, Peter. Poet's book-shelf: Contemporary Poets on Books That
Shaped Their Art. Selma, IN: Barnwood Press, 2005. p. 126
^ MacGowan, Christopher John. 20th-century American Poetry. Maldon,
MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. p.74
^ Monaghan, Peter (April 11, 2011). "
James Franco Brings
Hart Crane to
the Big Screen". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved June 19,
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Poetry Foundation profile
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Modern American Poetry:
Hart Crane (1899–1932)
A Great American Visionary
Colm Tóibín essay on Crane and review of
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Hart Crane on Fire A Selection of Crane's Letters
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