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CRANE, HART (1899-1932) Hart Crane was literary heir to Walt Whitman, an authentically American male voice expressing his vision of America; thus he became ancestor to the beat poets, particularly Allen GINSBERG, who traced his own poetic lineage through Whitman and Crane. Crane's poetry was also affected by his contemporaries, such as Wallace stevens, T. S. eliot, and Ezra pound; he admired Robert frost and E. E. cummings, whom he occasionally copied, as he also did William Carlos WILLIAMS. During the first half of his writing life, Crane's style variously employed, as Edward Brunner has said, an "Eliotic ennui," "sumptuous imagism" (see imagist school), "Gusto of a Poundian sort," and characters reminiscent of "a Wallace Stevens seascape" ("Hart Crane"). Among Crane's close friends were Allen tate, who once called Crane "the greatest contemporary American poet" (qtd. in Mariani 113) and later wrote the introduction for Crane's first book, White Buildings (1926), Jean toomer, and Yvor winters, who later negatively reviewed Crane's second book, the bridge (1930). From Eliot, Crane sought to learn as much technique as possible, and with Pound he shared a desire to protect ancient myth from religious revisionism.
Harold Hart Crane was born in Gainesville, Ohio. He never finished high school, and although he occasionally made plans to pursue a degree, he never did so. His first publication appeared when he was only 17 years old. After he started publishing his poems, he began using his middle name at his mother's suggestion—it was her maiden name; his father called him Harold for the rest of his life. His parents' conflicted relationship was a major element in Crane's unsteady mental development, and the issue of his name is an indication of the extent of their efforts to manipulate him. As an only child, Crane bore the full force of his parents' machinations, especially his mother's, during their marriage and after their divorce. This fact played no small role in the adult Crane's general disparagement of women, which is made especially plain in his lack of respect for the work of female poets—with the single exception of Emily Dickinson. Paul Mariani suggests that Crane grudgingly acknowledged Marianne moore (243), but dismissed Edna St. Vincent millay as "too derivative" (84); Crane likewise discarded what he categorized as the "scullery permutations of Amy lowell" (qtd. in Mariani 243). The only formal, financial recognition he ever received was the conditional patronage of Otto Kahn, a New York banker and arts patron, beginning in late 1925, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1931.
Unfortunately Crane was never able to establish a secure and permanent relationship of any kind for himself. He was constantly in motion—emotionally, physically, and mentally. He relocated frequently, from
Cleveland, where he had grown up, to New York, a city that had a mythical fascination for him, to Cuba, where his family had a vacation home, to an isolated farm in Connecticut, and back again to all of them repeatedly, all the while hoping and believing that a change of space would enable him to be a more disciplined writer. Likewise he never was able to sustain himself financially by maintaining a regular day job, always complaining that whatever kind of work he had at the time was beneath him and did not pay him enough, whether it was working in his father's Ohio factory or writing ad copy in New York. His emotional relationships waxed and waned as swiftly as his physical ones. Tate explained, as Paul Mariani relates it, that "Crane always saw things in terms of his own insatiable ego" (213).
Crane's early writing was influenced by modernism, but he soon began to develop a clear voice of his own, maintaining all he had absorbed of technique but embracing new ideas as poetry became liberated from its highbrow constraints. He incorporated elements of common speech and believed that jazz had an important role to play in the maturation of American poetry, not only because it was an American musical form, but also because it could accommodate both heights and depths. Crane was convinced that the task of the poet was to confront the historical moment through experience, not detached observation, and to articulate the experience in a neoromantic fashion. As a young poet he emerged from Eliot's influence and in fact disliked the waste land, but he never left Whitman behind. The first movement of Crane's six-part "Voyages" (1926) echoes the second movement of Whitman's "Song of Myself" in its unobserved speaker who watches others frolic on the beach. Written when Crane was 22, this first section nevertheless has a tone of hard-earned worldly wisdom: The speaker warns that "there is a line" of acceptable behavior beyond which these bathers must not go. If they do, they will learn what he already has learned: "The bottom of the sea is cruel." "voyages" developed as a love sequence to Crane's longest-lasting relationship. Crane was gay, and although he was careful to keep the gender of the poem's beloved unspecified, he speaks in this set of poems to the dearest of his many male sailor lovers
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