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Crane, Hart (1899-1933)  
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A successor to Walt Whitman, Hart Crane found spiritual transcendence in homoerotic desire.

Harold Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, on July 21, 1899, the only son of Grace Hart Crane, an intelligent, sensitive woman, and C. A. Crane, a success-driven businessman. The poet's childhood was materially secure but emotionally difficult.

When Harold was five, the family moved to Warren, Ohio, where they lived until domestic conflicts drove Grace into a sanitarium and C. A. to Chicago; nine-year-old Harold was sent to his mother's parents in Cleveland. Grace returned in 1909, and C. A. later rejoined her at the Hart house, where they lived on uneasy terms until their divorce in 1916, the year that Harold, at seventeen, set off for New York City.

He later confessed to Grace: "my youth has been a rather bloody battleground for yours and father's sex life and troubles." Still, he sympathized so strongly with her that in 1917 he chose to call himself "Hart." Although he eventually reconciled with his father, his relationship with his mother slowly deteriorated. He finally broke with her in 1928 after she threatened to tell C. A. about his homosexuality and tried to block a $5,000 inheritance left to him by his grandparents.

From 1916 to 1923, Hart shuttled between Cleveland--where he worked, unhappily, for his father as a candy salesman--and New York. During this time, he had his first love affairs with men, read widely, and wrote many of the lyrics collected in White Buildings (1926). In 1923, he moved permanently to New York, where he changed residences frequently and lived off occasional jobs writing advertising copy, money borrowed from friends, and small stipends from his parents.

In 1926, a grant from a banker, Otto Kahn, allowed him to work on his long poem, The Bridge, for several months in New York and then, from May to October, at his grandparents' Caribbean plantation on the Isle of Pines, where he also wrote a number of fine lyrics.

After his return to New York, he was distracted from The Bridge by Grace's financial and emotional troubles; her letters often prompted Crane's self-destructive drinking sprees. In 1927, he lived in Pasadena as a paid companion to a wealthy invalid and later moved to Hollywood to assist Grace, who was nursing her mother through a terminal illness; the nervous collapses Grace suffered whenever he wished to go out at night drove him to leave for New York City in May 1928, never to see her again.

His grandmother died in September, and when he finally obtained his inheritance, he sailed in late December for Europe, where he met Harry Crosby, owner of the Black Sun Press, whose enthusiastic agreement to publish The Bridge inspired Crane to finish the poem after he returned to New York in 1929.

Crane's final years were marred by his alcoholism, inability to find work, and diminished poetic production. A Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to spend his last year in Mexico, but, plagued by violent drinking bouts, grieved by the sudden death of his father in July 1932, and swept up in his first heterosexual love affair, he completed only one lyric, "The Broken Tower."

During the early morning of April 27, 1933, on his journey back to New York by ship from Vera Cruz, Crane was badly beaten by sailors whom he had solicited for sex; at noon he returned to the stateroom he shared with his lover, bade her good-bye, went up to the deck, and leapt into the sea.

According to Thomas Yingling, "Crane's self-destruction was a lethal combination of alcoholism, homosexual self-hatred, and the personal failures that both obsessions induced. . . . If his life became literally unlivable for him by 1933, part of the reason for that was that homosexuality was central to his life but was itself socially and psychically designed as an unlivable existence."

Crane was not strictly closeted; an open-hearted and voluble man, with his straight friends he made no secret of his homosexuality, and New York in the 1920s offered ample opportunities for gay life. Yingling argues that "Crane's generation stood precisely on that historical threshold when homosexuality began to be articulated as an identity through Western cultures, and Crane's is one of the first literary texts to provide literary representations grounded in that articulation."

That the desire Crane expressed--and often cloaked--was helps account for his dense style although, like many modern poets, he also found inspiration in the knotty paradoxes of John Donne and the luxurious surrealism of Arthur Rimbaud.

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