Authors: Hart Crane

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

American modernist poet.

July 21, 1899

Garrettsville, Ohio

April 27, 1932

Gulf of Mexico

Biography

Harold Hart Crane was an innovative and vital poet whose relatively small body of work established him as a significant twentieth century American poet. He was the only child of a prosperous family of New England background. Crane suffered an unhappy childhood, his affections divided between his estranged parents. Beginning when he was sixteen years old, he drifted from city to city, writing poetry as he moved. Following publication of one of his poems in The Little Review when he was eighteen, he rejected an opportunity to go to college. Instead, pursuing his interest in books, he found a job in a bookstore in New York. He soon left this job for work in a munitions plant, followed by employment in a Lake Erie shipyard, serving the while as associate editor of a small magazine, The Pagan. He went into advertising in New York after World War I.

More of his poems were published in magazines like The Dial. Encouraged by such writers as Allen Tate and Laura Riding, Crane secured funds from philanthropist Otto Kahn in 1925 and quit the advertising business to devote himself full-time to poetry. White Buildings, his first volume, was published with a foreword by Tate.

Hart Crane

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(Library of Congress)

Crane was a poet of the city. The objective purpose of his poems was to fuse the artifacts of the city with romantic idealizations of the past to create a modern Romanticism for city life. It was an attempt in the tradition of Walt Whitman, the poet Crane most admired. His poetry fell short of his goal; unlike Whitman, he was not willing to reveal himself frankly—although he expressed himself fully. The result was a confused combination of clear, brilliant imagery and incoherent private symbolization. What he needed most, some critics felt, was a theme to embody his uncoordinated imagery.

After three years of travel in Europe and elsewhere, Crane published The Bridge. He had found a theme, and the result won him the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine in 1930 and a Guggenheim Fellowship the following year. The poem is a triumph of the use of the principle of "objective correlative." The images are arranged on the basis of emotional rather than logical effect, with the meaning emerging in the reader’s mind at the end. The language is occasionally awkward, however, and the element of confusion, heightened by certain completely private passages, still exists to a degree sufficient to mark the work as a whole imperfect, though impressive.

Crane’s life was a chaotic and turbulent one, plagued by alcoholism, money problems, and confusion over his homosexuality. Crane was not able to achieve the order he desired through his art. On a return trip from Mexico, where he had gone during the year of his fellowship, the thirty-three-year-old Crane jumped from his ship into the Gulf of Mexico. His body was not recovered.

Author Works Poetry: White Buildings, 1926 The Bridge, 1930 The Collected Poems of Hart Crane, 1933 (Waldo Frank, editor) Ten Unpublished Poems, 1972 The Poems of Hart Crane, 1986 (Marc Simon, editor) Nonfiction: The Letters of Hart Crane, 1952 (Brom Weber, editor) Twenty-one Letters From Hart Crane to George Bryan, 1968 (Joseph Katz, Hugh C. Atkinson, and Richard A. Ploch, editors) Robber Rocks: Letters and Memories of Hart Crane, 1923–1932, 1969 (Susan Jenkins Brown, editor) The Letters of Hart Crane and His Family, 1974 (Thomas S. W. Lewis, editor) Hart Crane and Yvor Winters: Their Literary Correspondence, 1978 (Thomas Parkinson, editor) Miscellaneous: The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane, 1966 (Brom Weber, editor) O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane, 1997 (Langdon Hammer, editor) Bibliography Berthoff, Warner. Hart Crane: A Re-Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. This is a concise, generally accurate discussion of Crane’s life and work that uses later scholarship to correct misrepresentations of earlier books. Crane, Hart. O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane. Edited by Langdon Hammer and Brom Weber. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998. This expanded and revised edition of the 1952 Letters includes separate introductions to the periods of Crane’s life and an analytical index. One-third of the letters are new, and all are uncensored. Hammer, Langdon. Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. This book focuses on the friendship between Crane and Tate, analyzing modern American poetry’s progress toward professionalism and institutionalization. Includes an index. Hazo, Samuel. Hart Crane: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1963. Hazo’s small volume served as commentary of choice for several years and remains readable, informative, and enlightening. Begins with a biographical survey, then stakes out several avenues of approach to the poems. Although it includes a small number of illustrations, it has no notes. A chronology, a select, dated bibliography, and an index compensate somewhat. Leibowitz, Herbert A. Hart Crane: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968. Begins with a biographical chapter which is followed by extended critical discussions of individual books. Includes helpful notes, a bibliography good for its period, and an index. Mariani, Paul L. The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. Examines the life of Crane, who held a pivotal role in the development of American literature’s avant-garde. Quotes from Crane’s letters and poems are included throughout the narrative. Quinn, Vincent. Hart Crane. New York: Twayne, 1963. A good small volume in what was a good series of introductions. The commentary is more analytic than biographical; a chronology compensates. Contains full notes, a select bibliography, and a good index. Unterecker, John. Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969. Unterecker’s detailed biography does not deal with Crane’s poetry but offers a wealth of information about his life Williamson, Alan. "Hart Crane." Voices & Visions: The Poet In America. New York: Random House, 1987. This perceptive, informative essay covers Crane’s life and work. The book is intellectually serious but accessible and contains many illustrations.

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