Saturday, April 28, 2012

National Poetry Month: Hart Crane

"At Melville's Tomb"
(Hart Crane)

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides ... High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.
HART CRANE (1899-1932) is perhaps the most mysterious figure of 20th Century American  poetry, and consequently one of its most Romantic. He admired Whitman and Emerson's work to such an extent that his own poem, "The Bridge," was an attempt to express the American experience in its entirety. His biography at Poetry magazine comments drily that "His failure in this attempt, as many critics noted, was rather to be expected." His first collection, White Buildings, was published in 1926, but a series of personal and family setbacks, including a fading gay relationship, soon plunged him into alcoholism, severe depression, and a fear that his talent had vanished -- not helped by his prodigious drinking bouts. He killed himself by leaping into the Gulf of Mexico from shipboard on April 28, 1932, after climbing up on the rail, waving, and reportedly exclaiming "Goodbye, everyone!" Allen Tate wrote in Essays of Four Decades, "Crane was one of those men whom every age seems to select as the spokesman of its spiritual life; they give the age away'."   "At Melville's Tomb" originally appeared in Poetry magazine in 1926.

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