| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
The only child of a successful candy manufacturer
and a difficult, possessive mother, Hart Crane grew up in a household of
domestic turmoil that did not end even with his parents’ divorce in 1916. He
had a sketchy formal education but a precocious self-education derived from
reading the experimental writing published in the little magazines of the
period. He published his first poem, “C-33,” in one such magazine, Bruno’s
Weekly, when he was 17. During this period, he voraciously read not only
nativist writers such as Edgar Lee Masters and Sherwood Anderson but also Ezra
Pound and T. S. Eliot and the French poets Rimbaud and Laforgue.
left school and went to New York for a brief stay in 1916, returned to Ohio to
work for his father from 1919 to 1923, and finally settled in New York.
Nourished by the break with his family, Crane was nonetheless troubled by
financial difficulties which kept him unhappily dependent upon his relatives.
Benefactors such as financier Otto Kahn, who provided support for part of the
writing of the long poem The Bridge, also helped Crane through troubled times.
1922, he started work on a three-part poem “For the Marriage of Faustus and
Helen,” which was to express the union of science and beauty, of technology and
art, in the modern world. The oddly disparate three parts of the poem open with
the poet’s meeting Helen of Troy, symbol of beauty, in a streetcar (Part I),
then move to an evocation of the jazz age (Part II), and end with a vision of
wholeness beyond the ravages of modern warfare (Part III). This poem is
important as a precursor of The Bridge as well as an expression of Crane’s
this period of his life, Crane was alternately productive and dejected. His
first volume of poetry, White Buildings, was published in 1926. He continued to
work on The Bridge through 1927, but he did not complete it until 1929 when he
was encouraged by a promise from Harry Crosby, the owner of the Black Sun
Press, to publish the poem. Crane never revived the inspiration that
inaugurated the long work, and the last poems that he wrote for it lacked the
power and vitality of the beginning. However, because he published the poems
not in the sequence in which they were written but in the sequence outlined
very early in the composition (he wrote, for example, the last section first),
The Bridge is a difficult poem to read as a whole. It moves through changes of
mood, as it struggles to maintain the positive vision of America that Crane
first imagined. The poem starts and ends with a paean to the Brooklyn Bridge,
symbolized as “O harp and altar, of the fury fused.”
the middle sections of the long poem, Crane moves back and forth in American
history: back to trace the voyage of Columbus, forward to track the modern
subway traveler, back to the Indians, forward to the airplane age, in an effort
to unite past and present, nature and technology, America and the spiritual
possibilities of the new age. Some parts, written late in the process of
composition, express Crane’s flagging spirits even when, in the sequence of the
long work, they are designed to move positively toward the affirmation of the
ending. As a result, The Bridge has presented problems in interpretation.
Assured of its power, readers have been less certain about its purpose.
before he completed The Bridge, Crane lost faith in his vision of America and
in his own ability as a poet. After a period of creative inactivity and
personal discontent, Crane was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and moved to
Mexico. On his return from Mexico in April 1927, he committed suicide by
jumping from the ship carrying him to New York. Among the poems that he had
been working on in his final years, “The Broken Tower” indicates a new range of
control and verbal mastery. It expresses a return to the subject of poetry and
to his own role as a poet of “the visionary company of love.” Crane’s poetry is
marked by visionary power, verbal difficulty, and jammed syntax.
University of Georgia
In the Heath Anthology
At Melville's Tomb
The Broken Tower
from The Bridge
To Brooklyn Bridge
The Collected Poems of Hart Crane
Brooklyn Bridge Photo Gallery
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Academy of American Poets
Exhibit offering some of Crane's work, a brief bibliography, and links.
Modern American Poetry
Biographical sketch, analytical essays about many of his poems, and links.
Text & RealVideo: At Melville's Tomb
Paul Connah discussing and reciting Crane's poem in a video file.
The Hart Crane WebBridge
Selection of resources including poetry, secondary bibliography, essays, papers, and explications.
Edward Brunner, Hart Crane and the Making of "The Bridge," 1984
Philip Horton, Hart Crane: The Life of an American Poet, 1937; rptd, 1957
Herbert A. Leibowitz, Hart Crane: An Introduction to the Poetry, 1968
R.W.B. Lewis, The Poetry of Hart Crane, 1967
Monroe K. Spears, Hart Crane, 1965
John Unterecker, Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane, 1969
M.D. Uroff, Hart Crane: The Patterns of His Poetry, 1974
Brom Weber, Hart Crane: A Biographical and Critical Study, 1948