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Born on July 21, 1899, in Garrettsville, Ohio, Harold Hart Crane was a highly anxious and volatile child. He began writing verse in his early teenage years, and though he never attended college, read regularly on his own, digesting the works of the Elizabethan dramatists and poets – Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Donne – and the nineteenth-century French poets – Vildrac, Laforgue, and Rimbaud. His father, a candy manufacturer, attempted to dissuade him from a career in poetry, but Crane was determined to follow his passion to write.
Living in New York City, he associated with many important figures in literature of the time, including Allen Tate, Katherine Anne Porter, E. E. Cummings, and Jean Toomer, but his heavy drinking and chronic instability frustrated any attempts at lasting friendship. An admirer of T. S. Eliot, Crane combined the influences of European literature and traditional versification with a particularly American sensibility.
His major work, the book-length poem, The Bridge, expresses in ecstatic terms a vision of the historical and spiritual significance of America. Like Eliot, Crane used the landscape of the modern, industrialized city to create a powerful new symbolic literature.
Hart Crane committed suicide in 1932, at the age of thirty-two, by jumping from the deck of a steamship sailing back to New York from Mexico.
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. 1986
Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters / Ed. Langdon Hammer. New York: The Library of America. 2006
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
—Till elevators drop us from our day . . .
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,—
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.