Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Crane, Hart (1899–1932)
Author:
Martin, Robert K.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

An important American modernist poet, Crane was a native of Ohio who spent most of his creative years in New York City. Influenced in his early work, including the volume White Buildings (1926), by the French symbolists, Crane remained an Americanist, drawing upon materials from the American past. His major work, The Bridge (1930), can be seen as a response to T.S. Eliot, offering a more affirmative vision grounded in the American experience and centered on the Brooklyn Bridge as architectural accomplishment and figure of transcendence.

There is little visible evidence of Crane's reading of Whitman in the early poems, with the exception of the idyllic male bonding across class lines in "An Episode of Hands" (1920). In The Bridge Whitman becomes a major guide to the American experience, Vergil to Crane's Dante. Crane's use of Whitman was a great source of anxiety among his modernist friends and colleagues, particularly Yvor Winters and Allen Tate. Winters thought Whitman a pernicious influence, lacking a moral or ethical system, which would inevitably lead to suicide.

Whitman was an early enthusiasm of Crane's, and his interest was furthered by Isadora Duncan's public evocation of "Calamus." Whitman's male comradeship was important to Crane in supporting his own view of the potential for social change. Whitman's role as a poet of the Civil War and of potential renewal after that carnage offered Crane a model for his own celebration of national renewal after World War I.

Crane's principal use of Whitman occurs in the "Cape Hatteras" section of The Bridge, which begins with an epigraph from section 8 of "Passage to India." Whitman is evoked as the figure who can return the poet from the scenes of personal and natural disaster to healing in the native soil. Like Whitman, Crane seeks to reclaim a native Indian heritage, thus fulfilling Columbus's journey, and to assert the power of "adhesiveness." Taking Whitman as his guide and mourning with him the dead of the war, victims of a lust for power, Crane is able to achieve a vision of love. Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" is revealed as the source of mythic vision and of Crane's particular myths of national joining. Quoting "Recorders Ages Hence," Crane makes it clear that his turn to Whitman owes much to the shared tradition of the "Calamus" poems, of the ability of male friendship to restore a lost pastoral.

Bibliography

Crane, Hart. The Letters of Hart Crane, 1916–1932. 1952. Ed. Marc Simon. Berkeley: U of California P, 1965.

———. The Poems of Hart Crane. Ed. Marc Simon. New York: Liveright, 1986.

Hammer, Langdon. Hart Crane & Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

Martin, Robert K. The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry. Austin: U of Texas P, 1979.

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

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


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