Saturday, September 15, 2012

a note on some lines by Hart Crane

Lowell says somewhere (source?) the two greatest Modern poets are Rilke and Hardy.

Hart Crane, in a letter to Yvor Winters dated May 29, 1927, writes this of Hardy: 

"I think him perhaps the greatest technician in English verse since Shakespeare."

Crane of course was no mean hand himself at crafting the deft. Here's two excerpts from "Eternity," about the aftermath of a hurricane in Cuba:

[the first 4 lines:]

After it was over, though still gusting balefully,
The old woman and I foraged some drier clothes
And left the house, or what was left of it;
Parts of the roof reached Yucatan, I suppose.


[the last 11 lines:]

The morrow's dawn was dense with carrion hazes
Sliding everywhere. Bodies were rushed into graves
Without ceremony, while hammers pattered in town.
The roads were being cleared, injured brought in
And treated, it seemed. In due time
The President sent down a battleship that baked
Something like two thousand loaves on the way.
Doctors shot ahead from the deck in planes.
The fever was checked. I stood a long time in Mack's talking
New York with the gobs, Guantanamo, Norfolk,—
Drinking Bacardi and talking U.S.A.

"Eternity" is overall not one of Crane's best poems, and it's never anthologized, but I go back and read it oftener than some of his more famous ones, and I reread it for the "rush", the sweep of these last 11 lines. Doctors—deck—checked. The President and the gobs. The battleship that baked. Talking U.S.A.

Talking USA! Yes. Exactly. If only we could do it.

(Remember Frank O'Hara's hyperbole about only three American poets being better than the movies: Whitman, Crane, and Williams.)


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