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Crane, Hart (1899-1933)  
page: 1  2  

Unlike many moderns, however, Crane did not repudiate the Romantic tradition of Blake, Shelley, and Keats and, in particular, the American Orphic strain developed by Poe, Whitman, and Melville. Like these Romantics, Crane strove to balance moments of ecstatic consciousness when spiritual transcendence seems within reach against the boundaries of human and material limitations.

But for Crane, those moments were primarily sparked by homoerotic relationships, and the boundaries he encountered were society's strictures against homosexuality, for he tightly partitioned his life between the gay and straight worlds.

The lyrics from White Buildings are beautiful, compelling, and often opaque, for Crane so thickens his lines with tropes that he tests the limits of figurative language--particularly when he writes about sexual appetite as in "Paraphrase," "Possessions," "The Wine Menagerie," and "Recitative," and about joyful consummation in "Voyages," written for his lover Emil Opffer. The traditional forms that Crane prefers, however, such as his signature iambic pentameter quatrains, help ground his charged language.

Just as in his life he sought to be both a homosexual adventurer and a man of letters, Crane wished in his writing to abandon himself to the flux of language while anchoring himself in the cadences of traditional forms. These obsessions are reflected throughout his poetry in his symbols of shifting sea and hurricane and the towers whose stability and completeness Crane often questions.

His search for a poetic structure flexible enough to accommodate his restless vision found its fulcrum in The Bridge, where the Brooklyn Bridge, whose two broken towers contain and support the arcing cords that Crane compares to a lyre's strings, becomes the symbol with which he tries to span many oppositions: space and time, faith and doubt, the Old World and the New, primitive naturalism and modern industrialism, cultural and personal memory, high rhetoric and American demotic speech, pure and tainted manifestations of desire.

Since the poem's publication in 1930, many critics have complained that its varied lyrics and marked rhetorical shifts fail to cohere into a unified whole, in spite of Crane's links of recurring metaphors. But spanning oppositions doesn't require fusion; instead, their juxtaposition fuels the poem's startling energy and allows the bridge to symbolize both limitation and possibility.

Crane's suspicion of heterosexual marriage, which he explored in "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen" (1923), reveals itself in The Bridge's emphasis on male communion. Although the men in the poem are sometimes inspired by virgin muses such as Mary and Pocahontas, the poem's intellectual and erotic energy swirls around groups and pairs of men.

In the "Ave Maria" section, for example, the discoverer Columbus addresses his friends San Luis de Angel and Juan Perez and, later, Elohim, the plural manifestation of God; the pattern culminates in the poet's clasping of Whitman's hand in "Cape Hatteras." The male "hands of fire" extended throughout The Bridge offer the electric link between the risks and rewards of homoerotic desire by which Crane, in his life and work, was both dangerously seared and purified.

Meg Schoerke

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Brown, Susan Jenkins. Robber Rocks: Letters and Memoirs of Hart Crane, 1923-1932. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969.

Edelman, Lee. Transmemberment of Song: Hart Crane's Anatomies of Rhetoric and Desire. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1987.

Giles, Paul. Hart Crane: The Contexts of the Bridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Lewis, Thomas S. W. Letters of Hart Crane and His Family. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Martin, Robert K. The Homosexual Tradition in Modern Poetry. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

Parkinson, Thomas. Hart Crane and Yvor Winters: Their Literary Correspondence. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Unterecker, John. Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969.

Woods, Gregory. Articulate Flesh: Male Homo-Eroticism and Modern Poetry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987.

Yingling, Thomas E. Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.


    Citation Information
    Author: Schoerke, Meg  
    Entry Title: Crane, Hart  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated April 6, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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