Hart Crane: Overview

Citation metadata

Date: 1994
From: Gay & Lesbian Literature(Vol. 1. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,968 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

"When the Pulitzers showered on some dope / ... few people would consider why I took / to stalking sailors," wrote Robert Lowell as Crane in the sonnet, "Words for Hart Crane." The poem continues, "I / Catullus redivivus, once the rage / of the Village and Paris, used to play my role / of homosexual, wolfing the stray lambs / who hungered by the Place de la Concorde."

Such frank admissions of homosexuality are not to be found in Crane's own poetry; he gave the reader few glimpses into his private life, but directed his erotic passion to language itself, which he fashioned into one of the purest lyrical styles in American literature. But Lowell, writing in 1959, 27 years after Crane's suicide, has him confess to dark psychological secrets as the base of his art. For Lowell and others writing in the l950s, the homosexual was a tragic figure, and a homosexual artist's main subject was the suffering and exile borne of his deviant existence.

But Crane's homosexuality lies in his art, in its grasp of the cold facts of American cities as a source of passionate images, and in its celebration of male myths like the Conquest of the New World, the Machine Age, and such engineering wonders as the Brooklyn Bridge. In forming large areas of experience into personal vision, he followed Walt Whitman, who had turned the whole of American experience into one of universal love, the coming together of races and of the world's strangers into spiritual and sexual union. Crane was less sanguine about such prospects, but he did believe that a new poetry of the machine and the facts of labor and urban life would revive an old art and stake out America's voice in world literature.

But to do so meant going against the grain of American literary tastes and attitudes, which favored plain speech and moral arguments. Instead, Crane schooled himself on "absolutist" poetry, as he called it, in the work of Donne, Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and others. "Absolutist" poetry, in contrast to "impressionist" poetry, as he wrote in his little essay, "General Aims and Theories," treats experience as fundamentals of spiritual life: "The impressionist is interesting as far as he goes—but his goal has been reached when he has succeeded in projecting certain selected factual details into his reader's consciousness. He is really not interested in the causes (metaphysical) of his materials, their emotional derivations or their utmost spiritual consequences."

Crane's view of poetry is that it must engage the terms of one's cultural era and find in them the immortal gods and powers underlying art in all ages. Daily life is a debris of shifting particles in which only the most creative intellect can discern the archetypes of imagination. To get at them requires 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," he wrote in...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420001974