Crane, Hart, 1899-1932Variant names
At the time of his early death at thirty-two in 1932, Hart Crane was already recognized as a major American poet, though he had published only two volumes of poetry and a handful of poems in various magazines.
Born in the small town of Garretsville, Ohio, on July 21, 1899, the only child of Clarence A. and Grace Hart Crane, Harold Hart Crane experienced an unsettling childhood and adolescence that undoubtedly affected his adult personal life and poetical career. Though he was freed of economic want by his father's first success in the canning of syrup, then in the manufacturing of candy, Crane from an early age had to contend with the increasing marital unhappiness of his parents. Their constant bickerings eventually resulted in divorce in 1916, an event that his biographers agree left an ineradicable scar in the seventeen year old Crane's emotional makeup.
Partly because of his disrupted home life and partly out of an early desire to make a name for himself in the literary world, Crane left home at seventeen for New York City. Throughout his adult life he experienced professional disappointments, emotional crises, heavy drinking spells, and a series of short-lived jobs in advertising or sales, but Crane was not deterred from his ambition to become an acclaimed poet. Although he never completed high school and entered college only to take a single advertising course, he was extremely well read in American and European literature, both past and present. Moreover, he was fortunate to become associated at an early age with many prominent authors, critics, and artists, among them Sherwood Anderson, Gorham Munson, Malcolm Cowley, Allen Tate, Waldo Frank, Matthew Josephson, Samuel Loveman, Carl Schmitt, William Sommer, and Alfred Stieglitz.
Having already published a number of poems in various magazines by the time he was twenty-five, Crane experienced his first major success in 1926 with the publication of White Buildings, his first volume of verse. Allen Tate called it "the most distinguished poetry of the age," and Yvor Winters claimed that this volume placed Crane among the five or six greatest contemporary poets in English. Between the publication of White Buildings and his death in 1932, Crane published only some fifteen poems in magazines, his poetic efforts being channeled to a completion of his seven-year project, The Bridge. Reaction to this long poem in 1930 was mixed, but The Bridge has come to be generally regarded as one of the supreme poetic statements of twentieth-century American literature. As Crane himself termed his poem, The Bridge was "a synthesis of America and its structural identity," an attempt to amalgamate and objectify the diverse American experience into a cohesive statement.
In 1931 Crane, with a Guggenheim fellowship, went to live in Mexico to work on a poetic drama of Montezuma's life. Heavily into drink and experiencing alternating periods of elation and depression, he made little headway on the projected poem and feared a loss of creative inspiration. Sailing back to the United States to resolve financial problems in his father's estate, Crane ended his life on April 26, 1932, by leaping from the deck of the S.S. Orrizaba. The publication of Crane's personal letters, several major biographies, and numerous critical studies have revealed Hart Crane to be one of the most complex, accomplished, and troubled voices of modern American poetry.
|Brooklyn Bridge (New York, N.Y.)