21 Selected Poems of Hart Crane

Ms. Sreemoyee Banarjee

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What is the Module About?


The module introduces you to the life and times of the poet. This is followed by the summary of the selected poems and their critical appreciation.


The Poet and his Time: Harold Hart Crane, popularly known as Hart Crane, was born at Garrettsville, Ohio. His father Clarence Crane was the inventor of the famous Life Saver’s candy and made a fortune by selling chocolate bars. His parents had a tumultuous relationship and they divorced in April, 1917. Crane dropped out of high school in his junior year and moved to New York City with the intention of joining Columbia University later. From Crane’s letters it is clear that New York was where he felt at ease and most of his poetry is set there. Through the early 1920s, small but well acknowledged literary magazines began publishing his poetry. His respect among the avant-garde poets of his age was enhanced by the publication of White Buildings (1926), his first volume of poetry. White Buildings contains many of Crane’s most appreciated lyrics, including “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,” and “Voyages”, a series of erotic poems, written while Crane was romantically involved with Emil Offer, a Danish merchant marine. Emil invited Crane to live in his father’s home at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Crane was overjoyed at the views the location afforded him.


His ambition to synthesize America was expressed in The Bridge (1930). The Brooklyn Bridge is both the poem’s central symbol and its poetic starting point. Crane left for Paris in early 1929.


The Bridge received poor reviews, but Crane’s sense of his own failure became crushing. It was during the late 1920s, while he was finishing The Bridge, that his drinking, always a problem, became notably worse. Crane’s life came to an end on the Gulf of Mexico, where he jumped off a ship he was sailing in.

Poetics of Hart Crane


Crane’s critical effort, like John Keats, is most distinct in his letters: he exchanged his views through letters with Allen Tate, Yvor Winters, Eugene O’Neil and Gorham Munson, and shared critical opinions with William Carlos Williams, E. E. Cummings, Sherwood Anderson, Kenneth Burke, Waldo Frank, Harriet Monroe, Marian Moore, and Gertrude Stein. Crane’s, most significant critical views on poetry are expressed in his letters. Crane’s letters to Munson, Tate, Winters, and his patron, Otto Hermann Kahn, are particularly perceptive.

His two most famous stylistic defenses emerged from correspondences through his letters: his Emersonian “General Aims and Theories” (1925) was written to pursue Eugene O’Neill for writing a critical foreword to White Buildingsand the famous “Letter to Harriet Monroe” (1926) was part of an exchange for the publication of “At Melville’s Tomb”.

Works of Hart Crane:

  • White Buildings (1926)
  • The Bridge (1930)
  • The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, Marc Simon, ed. New York: Liveright (1986; Centennial edition with intro. by Harold Bloom, 2000)
  • My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane. Introduction and commentary by Langdon Hammer, forward by Paul Bowles. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows (1997)
  • Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters, Langdon Hammer, ed. New York: The Library of America (2006)
  • Hart Crane and Yvor Winters: Their Literary Correspondence. Thomas Parkinson ed. and commentary. Berkeley: University of California Press (1978)
  • The Collected Poems of Hart Crane, Boriswood, 1938 (First UK edition edited by Waldo Frank)

To Brooklyn Bridge


Poem Summary: The poem opens with the image of a seagull taking flight from its perch on the water. It flies past the “chained” shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and on into the distance past the Statue of Liberty. It flies out of sight like a boat sailing out of a harbour, or like a page of sales figures that an office clerk files away.


The sea gull’s disappearing flight reminds the speaker of the ghostlike flickers of movies. Movies are like a prophecy or the promise of some truth that is never told. He’s not too keen on them.


The poet admires the bridge from across the harbour: the way the sun shines on it, the way the bridge embodies potential energy, and the way it hangs free in the air.


The poets now sets to describe how a mentally unstable person runs to the top of the bridge, stands for a moment, and then commits suicide by jumping off the bridge.


The next picture presented is that of Wall Street, where light passes through the girders of high buildings on to the street below. Clouds are sailing by and tall structures called derricks seem to be turning. The wind from the North Atlantic passes through the cables of the bridge.


The bridge offers the promise of a reward which is as mysterious as the mysteries of heavens described in Jewish scriptures. The speaker expresses that the Bridge watches as anonymous people pass by and functions like a forgiving element, shadowing the anonymity of passer- by. Like a king, it pardons people.


The bridge is described as a fusion of religious and artistic symbols to enhance its majestic presence. The speaker wonders how something as petty as human labour was able to hold together the “choiring strings” of the harp like Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a refuge for extraordinary and marginal figures like prophets, pariahs, and lovers.


As night falls, the speaker watches the traffic lights go over the bridge. The lights remind him of eternity, and the bridge seems to hold the sky up on its towers. It is so high that the speaker feels the stars are “beading thy path”.


The speaker stands by the piers in Manhattan, looking at the shadow of the bridge in the light of the city. The lights in the windows of office buildings and apartments have been put out signifying the end of day and approach of night. The shadow of the bridge is only clear at night. It’s winter and another year is passing by making the bridge grow in years and experience. The bridge here stands as a symbol of eternity.

But, like the river beneath it, the bridge never sleeps. Not only does it connect one side of the river with another, it seems to connect one side of America with another. It connects Americans. It functions as a symbol of unity and harmony.


In the final two lines, the speaker asks the bridge to descend to the level of mere mortals and to help fill the space that God has left empty.


Critical Comment: The seagull is an ordinary bird, too insignificant to be used in the opening lines of a poem, but Crane uses a common bird as a symbol of freedom. Throughout the poem he tries to reinvest our belief in the value of ordinary and anonymous things.


Also, Crane is making an allusion to Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” another classic poem about crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan, written beforethe Brooklyn Bridge was constructed. Here are some of the lines from Whitman’s poem: I watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls—I saw them high in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies, I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and left the rest in strong shadow, I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the south.


Like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane found life in New York City to be a combination of excitement and fear, thrilling and thriving. Crane’s poemis a 20th Century poem, bearing the symbols of modern civilization and therefore laden with automobiles, movie theatres, elevators, subways, and other symbols of modernity. His projection of urban life uncovers the perils of modern existence, especially the suicide scene in stanza five, but is far away from being labelled dystrophic. Crane, unlike most of the modern poets, focused on maintaining a note of hope in his lines. The suspension bridge is one example of a modern, urban invention that Crane feels he can put his faith in this modern miracle. “To Brooklyn Bridge” can be called a classic “New York” poem.


Hart Crane picks up where Whitman left off in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” – he employs a non-religious experience to represent a state of freedom and interconnectedness between people. The Brooklyn Bridge is symbol of a fundamental American art form – beautiful, gigantic, efficient, and profitable all at once. The bridge offers freedom of movement over a large body of water, uniting Americans from both sides of the coast. It also provides ease to those on the subalterns of society, like “prophets” and “pariahs,” people who would not otherwise feel free in a society different from their way of life.

Crane represents a generation who had invested their faith in spirituality and not any institutionalised religion. His spirituality seems roughly in line with the twin 19th century currents of British Romanticism and American Transcendentalism. He propounds the idea that the old religions have passed their prime; their myths have become insignificant and can no longer cater to the crisis of modern existence. In “To Brooklyn Bridge” (and the larger poem containing it, The Bridge) Crane makes an effort to establish a new mythology that does not contain mythical heroes but people and objects from ordinary life of the Americans. (Think of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic lyric: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”, an idea similar to what Crane is trying to propound). Due to its focus on the myths of ordinary life, The Bridge was an inspiration to the Beat writers, who harboured a sense of deep spirituality and a strong sense of disbelief in traditional institutions like churches and synagogues. A reader might find similarities between the poems “To Brooklyn Bridge” and Allen Ginsburg’s famous poem “Howl” (a poem that talk about New York City).


“To Brooklyn Bridge” primarily talks about the humdrum realities of New York City life and not America at large, Crane considered New York City a symbolic representation of America as a nation. It’s the city of the future, full of exhilaration and menace, magnificent wealth and dismal poverty, where drudgery and fantasy co-exists. Hart Crane sees New York as a place of great national potential. The Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan to Brooklyn, but can also be interpreted as a symbolic connection between many different ethnic and cultural groups. In New York, even the marginalized “pariahs,” including homosexuals like Crane, could have a voice and a life in times when homosexuality was considered as a social stigma. There as the poem ends, Crane wishes he could outspread Brooklyn Bridge across the entire country, drawing even more Americans into its trajectory.


The Bridge (which contains “To Brooklyn Bridge”) is sometimes associated with T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land. Both poems offer a phenomenal reading of the 20th Century life and depict the paranoia of modern existence. Both the poems criticize the hollowness of modern existence and offer a criticism of American capitalism and the endless desire of money making that the bourgeois class harbours. Crane’s does not sympathize with the peaceful citizen pampering their escapist traits at movies or with the executives of Wall Street splurging away to glory. Instead, his sympathy lies with the anonymous person about to jump off the bridge, with the down-and-out, with the lovers and the urban prophets. Crane offers an optimistic reading of modern society despite depicting the drudgery involved and unlike Eliot in The Waste Land doesn’t offer a pessimistic worldview of 20th Century.

At Melville’s Tomb


Poem Summary: “At Melville’s Tomb” is much known for causing the editor of Poetry, Harriet Monroe, and severe difficulty in interpreting it. This controversy sparked Crane’s famous reply in which he expounded his theory of composition. The sixteen-line poem pays a tribute to the nineteenth century American novelist Herman Melville. In the custom of many poems written by young writers to address their forerunners, the poem accomplishes the dual purpose of praising the yesteryear writer and also suggests that he shares the world view of the younger generation of writers. Crane imagines Melville meditating on one of Crane’s preferred themes, the twin nature of the sea. The poem opens with the image of the novelist watching breakers roll onto a beach. Melville, being a sailor by profession, had complete knowledge and understanding of the sea. His famous novel, Moby Dick (1851), the one that Crane alludes to in his poem, is not primarily about the sea but rather offers a study of fraternal and hierarchical relations between men at a whaling ship.


The poem opens with an allusion to Melville’s death as he died at sea. Crane imagines the dead Melville sitting at an elevated position, watching through time. The word “embassy” signifies a Shakespearean locution for a message (see “Sonnet XLV,” Twelfth Night, King to).On chapter 104 of Moby Dick, the word “bequeath” appears. Crane might have borrowed the idea of messages coming from the mysterious underwater from this. Crane moves from bones to messages to chapters and hieroglyphs forming an important connection she is about to present to his readers the most astonishing and marvellous couplet:


Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;

And silent answers crept across the stars.


Crane, in a letter to the editor of poetry magazine, Harriet Monroe, offered clues to interpret these lines. Monroe couldn’t understand how eyes could “lift altars.” But in chapter 119 of Moby Dick, titled “The Candles,” Melville writes of the corpusants (also known as St. Elmos Fire) that ignite the Pequods masts: “Each of the three tall masts was silently burning in that sulphurous air, like three gigantic wax tapers before an altar.” The sky, the horizon in Moby Dick, is a type of altar, the masts are like candles. To Crane’s drowning sailors then, their frosted eyes looking upward as they sink into the ocean depths, it would appear as if the alter were being lifted.

In his letter to Monroe, Crane writes, “As soon as the water has closed over a ship, this whirlpool sends up broken spars, wreckage, etc.” [the word “calyx” alluding to a whirlpool bringing to the shore the rummaged remains of dead sailors and their ships]“which can be alluded to as livid hieroglyphs, making a scattered chapter…” Therefore in the second stanza, Crane talks about shipwrecks cause death and the remains of sailors and their belongings seem to tell a story, a story that is heard by the mariner sitting atop through time.


In other words, the “embassy,” or message, has gone out to the shore; its “answer” then — following the allure of the sea — has come back by ship, which (like Ahab’sPequod) founders and sinks, leaving its wreckage, as scattered chapters, or livid (sea-smeared) hieroglyphs, to float across the ocean’s surface.


In the third stanza, Crane refers to “circuit calm” and “silent answer”. The silence here is crucial, too. One can merely hear sounds while underwater, especially at bottom of the sea. Therefore, wrecks pass “without sound of bells” — the same bells which Crane borrows from chapter nine of Moby Dick: “The continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog”.


Thus the “monody” — the song of poets, coming as it does above the boundaries of Melville’s  tomb, “high in the azure steeps” is silent as well. To the sea-entombed Melville, to “the mariner” looking up from below, the water’s surface is the limit of his world. There are “no farther tides.” The sea gets to retain the “fabulous” shadow of the floating mariner, the shadow signifying that the mariner is no longer a part of this world, but has become a denizen of the sea.


Thus Melville, from his tomb, bears witness to the profound feeling of timelessness that his vision of the sea invokes.


Critical Analysis: In The poem “At Melville’s Tomb” Hart Crane by wilfully avoiding the present tense, places the reader into an epistemological predicament. Crane plays and challenges the idea of time and space, bringing together a character of the past and a situation involving the present. In the process of reviving Melville and his vision, for example, the poet alerts his readers of the of the present that had extended its existence in the past, the past that Melville occupied, just as the “he” of the poem who is living, or whose significance lies in the past. The last stanza of the poem further problematizes the concept of time and human knowledge by stating that the “mariner” will not “wake” up, therefore suggesting the impossibility of the human race waking up to a futuristic epiphanies of the secrets of time and space. Human knowledge of time will always be limited and only the sea will harbour secrets of eternity. Therefore the shadow of the mariner is timeless and does not limit itself to any specified time frame.

My Grandmother’s Love Letters


Poem Summary: “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” was composed in 1919 and appeared in Crane’s 1926 collection White Buildings. The poem consists of six stanzas, three of which are fairly traditional quatrains, and the other three deviate from that established pattern. The event that gave way to the composition of the poem is rather uncomplicated: The poet discovers his grandmother’s letters tucked into a corner of the attic and contemplates reading them. In the process, Crane re-discovers his grandmother and wants to embark on an imaginary journey with her.

The poem describes a rainy starless night where faint light of memory is the only source of illumination. The poet now talks about human memory, his grandmother’s old, faded, fragile, and friable love letters that were hidden into the corner of the attic. These letters contain the private history of the poet’s grandmother and the poetises of the delicacy with which one tread on the private space of Elizabeth, who before the discovery of these letters had just been referred to by the relationship she had shared with the poet. Therefore Crane writes: “Over the greatness of such space/ Steps must be gentle.”Crane seems to be striving to find a connection between him and his grandmother – a connection perhaps as thin as an “invisible white hair.” a connection that would help him to understand her private life better. But the connection trembles as he follows the absent presence of his grandmother in these letters. The poet is not only defining a lack of connection but is realizing that he can never completely understand the weight of another person’s interior life. This inability works both ways – for Grandmother and Grandson.


The poet comes to terms with this lack of connection in the penultimate stanza where he asks himself: ‘Are your fingers long enough to play / Old keys that are but echoes / Is the silence strong enough / To carry back the music to its source’? The answer to many readers might be negative. The letters themselves are ‘liable to melt as snow’ and, like memory, are incredibly fragile.

In the last stanza, the poet speaks of something he can only hope for if the memories embedded in the letters would develop a complete connection with his grandmother. He can only hope for embarking on a journey with her but then again comes back to reality and accepts that she might not be able to relate to it. Therefore he “stumbles” as the sound of incessant rainfall on the poet’s rooftop offer a gentle, pity mingled laughter.


Critics like Thomas Yinglingin his book, Hart Crane, The Homosexual Text1opines that the last few lines are rich in homosexual undertones. He cites, for example, the last lines of “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” from White Buildings as a poignant description of falling-out from the norms of (heterosexual) family life:


“Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand Through much of what she would not understand; And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof  With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.”


The grandmother, like most of the people, would fail to understand this form of love which she has not experienced. Love in all its bounty would take a different course yet would be inexplicable to people of the old generation like the poet’s dead grandmother. What cannot be defined is mystique and therefore unacceptable. So as the rain continues to pour, the rhythmic pit-pat-patter echoes the impending societal rejection that the love of this unusual kind would  suffer.


Critical Analysis: “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” means almost exactly what it says. It does not reach beyond its own experience of the mind’s working and reworking a central question: In the silence of time and memory, is it possible to find the original feeling and experience it “as though to her”? The poem works effectively on that level. The reader is left to ponder the same question from the framework of his or her own life. The ambiguities of the poem become part of its meaning. It asks the reader to share the experience through imagery and reflection, not through identification with the speaker. In fact, the first-person pronoun does not enter until more than halfway through the poem, at which point the speaker rather indirectly raises the issue of privacy. What is it that he thinks she might not understand? The poem demonstrates perfectly what Allen Tate prescribed in his 1926 introduction to White Buildings: “The poem does not convey; it presents; it is not topical, but expressive.”


Another underlying theme the poem presents is that of identity. After the discovery of the letters, the poet, for the first time, realises that his grandmother is not named grandmother but is called Elizabeth, a name that had so long been buried under the burden of relationships she was engaged in. For the first time, grandmother emerges as Elizabeth, a flesh and blood human being, who too had a past life perhaps unknown to her family. She emerges out of those letters as the poet reads out the memories of her life, almost coming to life through her love letters. The readers are never told who these love letters are for but one can imagine that her secret is safe with her grandchild.

Voyages I


Poem Summary:“Voyages I” invokes the underlying deception and malevolence of a maternally guided and guarded world for children where they are set free to play along the beach but are unaware of the “limits” they never should cross. The poem opens with the bright and gay description of children playing on the beach. Children are referred to as urchins because of the bright and striped swim suits they wear. It is interesting to note that the children are playing “above” the waves and not in the water. In fact, the “ruffles” of the first stanza translates to the “folds” of the second stanza, “folds” invoking the image of curtains.


Therefore it can be interpreted that the waves offer an enclosure, a sort of boundary to protect the children from any exposure to hidden truths. These “urchin” like children have indulged themselves in child’s play but the apparently innocent game is not free from malice as they “contrived” to compete for shells and do not deter from obstructing their opponents by scattering sand. Perhaps the poet wants to assert the inevitability of the exposure to malice the children would undergo and no protective mother figure will be able to shield them.


The poet now draws our attention to the “treble interjections” that the children indulge in. Children are by nature curious and their curiosity is enhanced when things are censored from them. Thus the waves with their shield like function do invoke the curiosity of the children to explore what lies beneath the “folds”. The questions are “answer[ed]”: by the sun that “beats lighting on the waves,” an exact yet menacing deception of the sunlit sea, where “beats” recalls the final return to shore in “At Melville’s Tomb”; and by the sea, whose “waves fold thunder on the sand”. Sound and cadence contains the insinuation of domineering force in the nature of things, the storm that thunder and lightning foretell.

At the end of the second stanza, the poet expresses his desire to articulate his knowledge of the dark forces of this world and to protect the innocence of these children with his experience. He urges the “brilliant” kids to “frisk” their dogs and “fondle” the sea shells and stick. The sexual innuendo is clear with the use of words “frisk” and “fondle” as if the poet is suggesting the inevitable exposure of the children to the world of adult experience. The idea is carried in the description of the shells and sticks, as the subsequent phrase insists, are “bleached / By time and the elements”. Like the “fragments of baked weed” in the first stanza, they are tokens of death. In reference to the last few lines, Paul Sherman writes:


“…And so he [Crane] confirms his truth: that the universe, even that of childhood, being in time and of the elements (and being elemental), is not to be trusted. Childhood doesn’t last. Yet – cruel paradox – do not cross the line to experience (“but there is a line / You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it”); do not go to sea, as Melville said, do not push off from the vernal isle; and do not “ever trust beyond it” – trust to beyond it. For the sea is a cruel mother, at once too possessive and indifferent (“Too lichen faithful from too wide a breast”). The love she offers is superficial and deceptive. A bottom, in its depths, in its very nature, the sea is cruel. This is the certain truth of the final line, a single declarative sentence: “The bottom of the sea is cruel.


Critical Analysis: Paul Sherman opines that Crane unambiguously connects his poem with love and whether because his love is homosexual or oedipal or exceedingly demanding, appears as a contravention, a going beyond defined limits (in the metaphysical sense of attacking or searching out the nature of things). Joseph Warren Beach reads the poem as a warning against homosexual love [in “Hart Crane and Moby Dick,” Western Review 20 (Spring 1956), p. 187], but it may also be interpreted as a pronouncement of it. The following voyage, endorsed within the maternal sovereignty and presence, and seemingly with approval, may repay the betraying mother with betrayal.


Eric Selinger writes about Whitmanian echoes in the concluding stanza of Voyages:


“Crane is, in many ways, the perfect reader Whitman imagines in “Calamus”: his “My hand / in yours, / Walt Whitman – / so –,” forms the most longed-for response to the older poet’s

call. …


…”Voyages I” sets its scene on a Whitmanian “marge,” with the poet watching and describing from below the water-line. …


[Selinger quotes the last seven lines.] … The sexual import of the children’s games is naturally emphasized by the off-shore speaker; the sea that figures as “the Eros of sexuality and the textuality of Eros” [in phrases by Lee Edelman] shapes and sharpens his gaze. And Crane’s strategic enjambments force the reader – there is an element of trickery involved – to overstep boundaries, to take unpredicted leaps of poetic faith and join him. The “shells and sticks” have been “bleached” into Whitmanian “debris” – but we notice and activate their erotic charge. “there is a line / You must not cross” – but we’ve just crossed it – “not ever trust beyond it” – trust what? Is that trust a transitive verb, then? – ” / Spry cordage of your bodies …” and so on. Crane’s closing line, like Whitman’s Song of Myself, is self-descriptive, performative. “I stop somewhere waiting for you,” the poet says, and the line’s been waiting there for us the whole time; likewise, “the bottom of the sea is cruel” we learn, just as we touch bottom at the end of the stanza, and the last word is “cruel” indeed.”


Poem Summary:


The poem presents a voice to all those that are categorized as dissenters or social outcasts. They join their voices to state how to express their containment in making “meek adjustments” and are satisfied with “random consolations”. The ‘self’ of “Chaplinesque” is a child of what is arbitrary, whose great hunger and need as signified in his “too ample pockets” find contentment in the wind. His wealth comprises abundant emptiness of his ragged pockets, which are always opened to the world, ready to accept and obtain what the world offers with love. They still have the heart to protect a hungry kitten from the “fury” of the world and not walk past, ignoring its miseries.


The oscillation between the world and self, between the world’s inventiveness and the self’s combative powers, is the essence of the poem. The self has to be resilient and assiduous to have its way in a world where its character is at constant contradiction with the established norms. The world of this poem prepares within the self the place for its acceptance.


Richard Huston, explores the Chaplinesque self and offers a “solution” to mitigate the crisis the self often encounters within itself and also in its correlation with the world. He writes:


“The solutions to the conflict have to be magical, visionary, at least in part. The self has to find its solutions within its own weakness, and this feat the Chaplinesque self performs elegantly. In his passivity he is a child of grace. He must hold himself open to something beyond his will, such as it is, even if his will should be concerned with legitimate objects. If he “finds” a kitten or sees the moon “make / A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,” it is not because he has gone, like the modern Parzival, in quest of these insignificant or significant objects. His success lies in his vagabondage, in his ability to transcend any quest or even his own clownishness. He must be available to the wind, to its gratuitous and random consolations.”


The Chaplinesque self does not deter from facing the critiquing laughter of the society. They would embrace the doom of going against the tide as they are well aware of the consequence. They would face the “dull squint” of this world with “innocence” and “surprise”, therefore rejecting what is being critiqued of them. Yet the self cannot escape from their personal feelings and emotions, these unlike the “people” in this poem, cannot be escaped from. The Chaplinesque self understands that this “collapses” from the established norms are genuine ones and does involve consequences. They understand that their way of life is different but this dissimilarity enhances the purity of emotions with which they connect with their heart, for they can evade what men think of them, but cannot escape from the matters of their heart. (“…all else but the heart:/ what blame to us if the heart live on.”)


“Chalinesque” analyses that the “game” of life, the clown’s alteration of the world stage, that “enforces smirks.”This Chaplinesque self is receptive to the unspoiled gratuity of the image of liberation. Beyond its need, its embarrassment, and its hunger, he finds a spiritual fulfilment. He has heard the “grail of laughter” that the moon indulges in while looking down on an “empty ash can”…the burnt out remains of the world’s fury (The Eliotian echo is obvious). Despite living in a world that critiques him and is later critiqued by the elements of nature, the Chaplinesque self can rise above these quandaries and experience a spiritual connection with the self, despite the “dull squint” and the “smirks” of the society, amidst its own miseries and desires, finds emotional appeal to the helpless cries of a kitten. The Chaplinesque self can “Still love the world” despite all the flaws this world has.

Critical Analysis:


Hart Crane’s “Chaplinesque” is a poem in five stanzas, the first two containing four lines each, the last three with five lines each. The title presents the fundamental metaphor of the poem, the film actor and comedian Charlie Chaplin. Just like its mentor, the Chaplinesque self does not deter from adapting a farcical attitude towards what is socially recognized.


Through the device of humour and laughter, Charlie Chaplin has indulged in a phenomenal treatment of all that he found faulty. Chaplin had faced the “dull squints” of the world and was even ostracized from his society and from his country too. The poem addresses all those, who like Chaplin, had the courage to stand up for what they believed in.


The poem is a remarkable dramatization of the position in modern society, of those who are, excluded from the establishment. The persona, the “we” of the poem, epitomizes all outsiders, not only poets and other artists, but also those who do not live according to the norms dictated by society. The poem salutes their undying spirit and their will to make their way in a society that marginalizes them.

Summary of the Module 


This module presents information about the background of the author, his life and times and his position in American Literature. The module also deals with the poetics of Hart Crane and provides a Bibliography of his works. The module then takes the individual poems and provides a summary of the poem followed by critical analysis of the poem.

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