The Broken Tower

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1999-04-01
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc

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Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?


Few poets have lived as extraordinary and as fascinating a life as Hart Crane, who made his meteoric rise in the late 1920s and then flamed out just as suddenly, killing himself at the age of 32. I>The Broken Tower" tells his compelling story. 34 photos.

Table of Contents

Prolegomenon 11(19)
Starting Out
About My Father's Business
The Higher Consciousness
White Buildings
In the Shadow of the Bridge
The Hawk's Far Stemming View
Clenched Beaks Coughing for the Surge Again!
Pinkpoodle Paradise
Last Strands
Down and Out in New York
Death's Adjustments
Viva Mexico!
The Broken Tower
Coda 422(7)
Notes 429(34)
Acknowledgments 463(4)
Photograph Credits 467(2)
Index 469

Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

The Used, Rental and eBook copies of this book are not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.


Chapter One


Cleveland and New York


When Harold Hart Crane walked out of the canyoned sunlight of Grand Central into the cold air of Manhattan four days after Christmas, 1916, he was--at seventeen--already a poet, with two published poems to his credit. Now, he was sure, he was ready to begin the life he'd dreamed of for the past six years. Back in Cleveland, in the room which had served as his ivory tower for those six years, he'd abandoned a sheaf of unpublishable poems--false, necessary starts--along with the fragments of a family torpedoed by recriminations and counterrecriminations, with only flotsam and jetsam left bobbing in the aftermath. Somehow, amid the detritus, he too had managed to surface and to find his way to New York City, where he was determined, the Muse willing, to undergo the necessary sea change that would make of him a poet. First, he knew, New York would work its transformations on him, after which he would proceed to make New York over in his own image.

    The genesis of Hart Crane's particular odyssey begins in the spring of 1898, when a twenty-year-old debutante from Chicago, one Grace Edna Hart, traveled by rail to Garrettsville, Ohio, for an extended visit with her aunt and cousin. Among the first families of that provincial center, and already known to the Harts, were the Cranes. A successful middle-class entrepreneur, Arthur Crane ran both a maple syrup business and the town's general store, as well as serving as director of the town's First National Bank. Arthur had one son, Clarence Arthur (C.A.), who had turned twenty-three that spring. C.A. had already put in two years at Allegheny College in western Pennsylvania. That was before he'd decided to strike out on his own and make his fortune. At twenty, he'd taken to the open road, selling cookies for the National Biscuit Company of Akron. But soon he was back in Garrettsville, working for his father's maple syrup business. C.A. was built like a bull and had the drives of one. Passionate, headstrong, good-natured, innocent in the murderous way of many young "red-blooded" Americans, he had an eye for women as well as for money, both of which he regarded--until he learned better--as commodities. Like other young American men of his generation, what he set his mind to having for himself he pursued relentlessly, until he had made it his own. Only afterwards, when it was too late, did he come to tally up the real costs.

    Introduced to Grace, he decided at once that he had to have her. So insistent was he that by the time she was ready to return home to Chicago, C.A. had already proposed. Rebuffed (mildly), he showered her with gifts and flowers, made trips (frequent) to Chicago, met Grace's parents, acted the beau, fantasized, waited, plotted, waited, took no refusal as final. And so, just two months after meeting, the couple were married in Chicago. The wedding--a big, noisy affair--took place on June 1, 1898, after which C.A. and Grace returned to Garrettsville, where C.A.'s father had built for them a substantial clapboard house with wraparound porch and vine trellis. Up until this point C.A. had followed the standard rules of courtship. But now it was back to business. He had a wife to support and an important job in his father's maple syrup cannery. Grace was his wife, and he would expect her to act like one. What he could not understand was why she seemed to deflect his amorous advances. He had his duties, he reasoned, and she had hers.

    Initially, Grace complied, for thirteen months after the wedding, on 21 July 1899, she gave birth to their only child, a son, whom they named Harold Hart Crane. A good baby, not given to severe childhood illnesses, though asthma would develop as tensions between the couple increased. Harold spent his first two years--the crucial, formative ones, for which there is so little information--in Garrettsville, before C.A. moved his family in 1901 to nearby Warren to begin what would become, within half a dozen years, the largest maple syrup business of its kind in the world. This C.A. managed with the help of a substantial loan from Grace's father, Clinton Hart.

    Cane sugar was the wave of the future, C.A. could see. Cane with a bit of maple sugar to give the whole the taste of maple syrup, but at a cost far less than the real thing. One of the pure products of America. C.A.'s father had not been keen on such adulteration, but C.A., shrewd businessman that he was, knew most Americans were not so much interested in quality as in finding a bargain. He was right, of course, in assessing the American temper, and the maple/cane sugar business grew. Knowing a good thing when he saw it, Clinton, who'd made his own money in steel, helped finance a sugar cannery for his prospering son-in-law: a brown-tiled building at Franklin and South Pine there in Warren, complete with its own rail siding to get his products to market.

    "Behind/My father's cannery works I used to see/Rail-squatters ranged in nomad raillery," Crane would write twenty years later on an island off the southern coast of Cuba. The bums, the hoboes, the outsiders, the runaways, the homeless, the ragged remnant of the old pioneers, so different from his industrious father:

... ancient men--wifeless or runaway

Hobo-trekkers that forever search

An empire wilderness of freight and rails.

Each seemed a child, like me, on a loose perch,

Holding to childhood like some termless play.

    Little of the Garrettsville years ever found their way into Crane's poetry, at least in any recognizable sense, but there is one passage, an image of his mother sitting at the piano and singing. She sings a song with a French tag, "Do you know the place?" But there is a sense of claustrophobia about the memory, a need on the speaker's part to break free and walk among the roses, the mystical roses that would later populate his long poem, The Bridge.

"Connais tu le pays ...?"

Your mother sang that in a stuffy parlor

One summer day in a little town

Where you had started to grow.

And you were outside as soon as you

Could get away from the company

To find the only rose on the bush

In the front yard ...

    And other boyhood images, remembered or reconfigured. The poet strolling along New York's Avenue A, recalling his boyhood years in Warren as he walked to the old Central Grammar School on Harmon Street ("It is the same hour though a later day"), recalling Pizarro and Cortes and the New England pilgrims, Priscilla and Captain Smith, and Rip Van Winkle, all names embedded in his history primer. A house at 249 High Street, followed by a bigger one on North Park Avenue, with its "cinder pile at the end of the backyard," where he had once "stoned the family of young/Garter snakes under." The heady years following the Wright brothers' flight, a space age in the offing: "the monoplanes/We launched--with paper wings and twisted/Rubber bands." The serpent and the eagle: a sense of conquest even here in these boyish images of Einsteinian time and space, signaling the twentieth century's grasping after its own pragmatic, palpable definition of transcendence.

    In 1908, C.A. sold his maple business to the Corn Products Refining Company and began working for the new owners as manager of the packaging plant they'd just completed. Still, he kept coming up with other bright ideas. Cellophane, he told them, cellophane from France rather than paper bags--that was the wave of the future. The idea caught on. With his new wealth, C.A. bought Grace a horse-drawn carriage and for his father one of those new-fangled motorcars beginning to put-put along the main streets of America. And now long business trips away, periods when Grace too was away on trips to Chicago. During these absences, Harold was left behind to stay with aunts. Symptomatically, his asthmatic attacks became more and more frequent and intense. He plunked away at his Aunt Bess's piano, eking out a sweet, haunting tune. What was it called? she asked him. "The Lamb's First Morning," he told her.

    Once, he got dressed up to deliver a birthday card to a Miss Hall and wound up giving it to the wrong woman. Still, the wrong Miss Hall invited him in, sat him down, and served him tea and cookies. When he returned home and explained where he had been, Grace began tweaking him about his error, then tweaked him again and again, until finally, understanding that he was just a little fool, he fled the room in tears. And once, on Mackinac Island, breakfasting with his parents in the big sunny hotel dining room, he failed to rise at the approach of a lady friend of his mother's. Afterwards, Grace roundly upbraided the boy for his boorishness. Humiliated, he began running a fever until he was forced to take to his bed. Afterwards his mother came to him, bending over him to chafe his wrists and place cool compresses on his brow. It delighted him to see her worried like this. Driven to it, he learned early on how to make illness serve his own ends.

    In the late summer of 1908, after ten years of blistering marriage, C.A. and Grace agreed to a trial separation. While Grace had herself admitted to a sanitarium for a regimen of complete rest, C.A. moved into a rooming house in Chicago, near the main offices of his employer. For his part, the nine-year-old Harold was shipped off to live with Grace's parents in Cleveland. The Hart home--at 1709 East 115th Street--was a three-storied, twin-towered late Victorian structure, the massive wooden towers as if inspired by the medieval city walls of Carcassonne. Seeing the strategic advantage of those twin towers looming over the surrounding houses, Harold moved into the north one, the view from his window looking out over the surrounding trees and--in the evenings--catching the light from the setting sun. It was a room of his own, which he was free to decorate and arrange as he pleased. There were other advantages as well: servants, a cook, a grandmother who adored him.

    Shortly, Grace rejoined Harold in Cleveland, and by winter--after he had profusely and abjectly apologized and courted his wife all over again--C.A. was also allowed to move back. The house in Warren was sold and the Cranes became Clevelanders. Having her daughter back under her roof, Grace's mother, Elizabeth, a fervent Christian Scientist, could work on her until she too was ready to become a believer. Even C.A., sometime Methodist, followed suit, becoming a lukewarm follower of Mary Baker Eddy. In time too young Harold became outwardly a Scientist, though later he would confess to friends that he'd done so to appease his mother. Sundays, he attended the Christian Scientist Sunday School; weekdays, it was the Fairmount Elementary School, where he proved to be a lackluster student.

    On a trip to Victoria, British Columbia, C.A. made the discovery of a chocolate so wonderfully good he was convinced it would make him rich. He tried to get a franchise for it for the Cleveland area, but when the Canadian company balked, he had the chocolate chemically analyzed and then began producing and selling a clone of it locally. Once again, his father and father-in-law bankrolled him, and by 1911, the thirty-five-year-old entrepreneur was making and selling his own "Queen Victoria Chocolates" in stores all over Cleveland. It was this same C.A., in fact, who invented the original Life Savers, "the candy with a hole in the middle." Always the ideas man, he found a way to use a pharmaceutical punch (for making pills) that could punch holes in hard candy without shattering it. "Crane's Peppermint Life Savers," the wrapper read. "For That Stormy Breath." He packaged them to sell for a nickel a roll, a picture of an old sailor tossing a lifesaver to a young girl adorning the wrapper. Packaging indeed was the thing in America, and C.A. became a genius at it. Later still he would employ a well-known artist, Maxfield Parrish, to design his line of Mary Garden Chocolates. Then, in 1913, C.A. sold the trademark and formula for what would become a multi-million-dollar industry to one Edward Noble for the modest sum of $2,900. C.A.'s business instincts were good, but they were not unerring.

    He had high hopes of passing his candy empire on to his boy; but his boy, even early on, seemed to have other ideas about the direction of his life. For one thing, Harold seemed more interested in dressing up in his mother's clothes. At the age of eleven, he typed a letter to his mother noting that the actress, Eva Tanguay, whom he'd seen at a performance at the Hippodrome in Warren, had worn seven different gowns during her performance. This sort of behavior C.A. found difficult to understand. In fact, Harold, C.A. was discovering, was becoming one strange boy: introverted, uninterested in sports, preferring reading (Musset's Mr. Wind and Madame Rain , in translation), dancing, piano (which he played poorly), vaudeville shows, musicals, and even art lectures over football and baseball.

    By the time he was sixteen, Harold also had a collection of mild pornography and had become an inveterate smoker of big cigars. Intense, nervous, and shy--a loner, in fact--he came to believe in friendship and loyalty with a passion hard for many to fathom, and when that friendship was not returned, he could feel utterly betrayed. Given the instability of his family life, it is no wonder he craved friendships that would survive the corrosions all friendships, alas, are subject to.

* * *

In January 1913, Clinton Hart died, leaving Harold a bequest of $5,000, to be held in trust until after the death of his wife, Elizabeth. In his mind, Harold would spend that $5,000 hundreds of times over before it came--briefly--into his possession following the eventual death of his grandmother. More immediately, because the death of Clinton left a large house to a widow now in her seventies, C.A. and Grace took over the management of things, leaving Elizabeth, like Harold, with a single room of her own. Three months later, C.A.'s parents bought the house directly across the street from them, a move that caused more friction than anything else between the Harts and the Cranes as the marriage of C.A. and Grace continued once again to disintegrate. In early 1914, Harold--at fourteen--at last enrolled in Cleveland's East High School, where he would attend classes irregularly for the next three years.

    Irregularly, for Grace had no problem in withdrawing Harold from school for long periods so that he could accompany her and see something of America's vast spaces, or winter with her on her mother's decaying plantation on the Isle of Pines. When the island, located fifty miles off the southern coast of Cuba, became a U.S. protectorate after the Spanish-American War, a number of enterprising Americans saw their chance to scoop up cheap land on which to grow fruit for American consumption. Clinton had been one of these entrepreneurs, and now that he was dead and the estate in shaggy disrepair, his wife and daughter came to spend their winters there. The plantation had long since ceased producing anything and had been left to decay genteelly in the hands of various caretakers.

    In high school Harold continued his career as an indifferent student, except in English, the one subject he excelled in because he liked it. Enrolled in the "Classical" program, geared to the college-bound student, he took three years of Latin, three of a modern language (German), English, math (algebra and geometry), physics. In most courses he received a simple Pass, a grade designed for bright students with a history of sporadic attendance or other problems. In class he said as little as possible, preferring to blend in with the other students. He played tennis passionately, badly. He had few school friends, but the three he did have, he kept. Kenneth Hurd, with whom he would lose contact after he left high school, was one; George Bryan, with whom he would keep in touch for years, the second; and Bill Wright, who would remain his friend for life, the third.

    He also began dating, in particular, a frail girl named Vivian Brown, to whom on special occasions he presented boxes of his father's chocolates. Somewhere in junior high or high school he had his first homosexual encounter, which may have been a case of sexual abuse by an older man. Only years later did he come to brag about the incident, and by then it had been transformed into a comic myth, with Crane seducing the man rather than his having been coerced. Was it one of his tutors? a handyman? Or simply an experiment, no different from what so many other boys, exploring their own pubescent sexuality, have encountered?

    In the summer of 1914, a writer and self-promoter from East Aurora, New York, one Elbert Hubbard, a man who'd modeled himself after William Morris by dabbling in everything from bookbinding to textiles and design, visited the Cranes in Cleveland. Because Hubbard was a self-styled entrepreneur as well as an artist, C.A. hailed him as someone after whom Harold might model himself. If one had to dabble in writing, C.A. reasoned, Hubbard's was the way to go. For years after, in fact, C.A. would quote Hubbard's Yankee self-start maxims in letters to his son. As for Harold, it did not take him long to realize how little substance there was to Hubbard. Whatever an artist was, he understood, Hubbard was not it.

    In January 1915, Harold joined his parents for his first trip south to the Isle of Pines for a ten-week vacation in the sun. Within days of his arrival, however, C.A., restless with so much enforced leisure and champing to get back to his desk, insisted on the family's returning to Cleveland. When Grace refused, a ferocious argument ensued, after which C.A. packed his bags and left. "We may never talk again," Grace warned him as he walked out the door.

    That was fine by C.A. They'd been this route before. But by the time he reached Florida, he was bombarding his wife and son with telegrams and letters, begging for forgiveness and understanding. He tried enlisting Harold on his side. "I guess you must have thot [sic] that dad behaved badly," he wrote from the Hotel Seminole in Jacksonville on the 24th. He hoped Harold and his mother would see that he was still "worth saving" and come back home real soon. Perhaps a new Cadillac 8 might entice Grace back? But Grace steadfastly refused, knowing she could have the car and the vacation. Magnanimous but undeterred, she allowed C.A. to send her daily assurances of his undying devotion while she stayed on at the plantation with her devoted Harold.

    Meanwhile, unnoticed, Harold himself sank deeper and deeper into a depression. Twice that February he tried to kill himself. The first time, he slashed his wrists. The second time, he stole all his mother's packets of Veronal sleeping powders (eighteen, she discovered) and swallowed the contents. Though the family never discussed the incident, Harold seems to have taken the drugs one night after being awakened by his mother, told there were cows roaming about the plantation--and ordered to shush them away. What should have taken a few minutes became an hour, and when he returned out of the darkness, his eyes were dilated and he was lapsing into semiconsciousness. He was taken to a local Spanish-speaking doctor and, after explaining the situation, given an injection to counteract the effects of the powders. C.A. was summoned and returned at once to the Isle of Pines to see that his family made it safely back to the States.

    Years later Crane would tell Bill Wright what had happened on the island that winter of 1915. And once--in Paris in 1929, when he was visibly going to pieces--he confided to Allen Tate that his parents' incessant quarreling and making up afterwards, replete with its attendant cooing and heavy lovemaking (short, nasty, violent), had sworn him forever off all heterosexual lovemaking.

In April 1915 Harold spent several weeks as an apprentice at Roycroft, Hubbard's art colony in western New York. Three months later, the boy escorted his mother on a tour of the eastern United States, staying at posh hotels in Rye Beach and Boston. Already an accomplished ballroom dancer, the sixteen-year-old Harold--in the absence of his father--led his mother about the dance floor at various socials and dinner dances. The following winter, C.A. and Grace tried the Isle of Pines adventure a second time. C.A. would combine business with pleasure, seeking new outlets for his chocolates as he and Grace made their way by train down the coast to Florida. This time, Harold was left behind to catch up on his studies. Mostly he spent his days alone, seeing no one besides the maid, Aunt Zell Deming (his mother's sister-in-law), and a few friends. Each day he wrote poems, hating the fact that school was taking up time he might better have spent in writing. Somehow he survived.

    That summer, he traveled with his high school friend, George Bryan, to Chautauqua, New York, to mingle with the local artists, afterwards stopping at Jamestown on the western New York/Pennsylvania border to visit with his sometime "girlfriend," Vivian Brown, her sister, and her parents, who were summering there. But if Harold was on his best behavior in the presence of the Brown sisters, especially under the ever vigilant eye of their mother, he was still the same Harold who, with the help of Bryan, had once spent an afternoon crushing the ceramic heads of Bryan's sister's dolls under the tread of a rockinghorse, laughing wildly as he did so.

    He was back home in Cleveland only a short while before he was on the road once more, escorting his mother on yet another trip, this one through the western states by Pullman and back via the Canadian Rockies. He was now old enough to be particularly irked by his mother's insistence that they share the same compartment. Still, there were extraordinary vistas to be seen from the observation car, and he could not help but feel a sense of awe as the New World offered itself to him: the barely tamed Yellowstone National Park, the great Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise, the international resort at Banff.

    When they returned home at the end of August, rumors had begun circulating--thanks to Grace's friends--that C.A. had been seen about town in the company of other women. What followed were accusations and denials, many of which Harold could not help overhearing, until he was choking with asthmatic fits and his body had erupted into a mass of angry welts. Finally, in early November, C.A. moved out of the house and took a room at the Athletic Club. For Grace, it was the last straw. This time she contacted the family lawyer and immediately filed for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty and gross neglect. Within days, a contrite C.A. was sending her roses and violets, even a bad poem. Then he was on the phone, begging her to let him at least talk to her. But Grace was adamant, especially since she could count on having Harold on her side.

    As divorce proceedings went forward, Harold at last saw his chance. He could see that the family was coming unraveled and that there would be no one left now with the strength to get in his way. Time then to strike out on his own and become what he already knew he was destined to become. Not in Cleveland, God forbid, but where the real action was, in New York. His plan was simple. He would drop out of boring school, get a job in a local picture shop--Korner & Woods--to help support himself, and then go to New York as soon as he had enough money saved up. Once there, he would find a job, hire tutors in math and French to prepare him for the entrance exams to Columbia University, get his degree, and find a full-time job. At least that was the scenario he laid out for his mother. Sensing how romantic it would be to have a son in New York whom she could eventually join--parties, socials, dances--Grace agreed to the plan. As for C.A., that adulterous pariah, he could do little more than scratch his head and pay his son's expenses. The one thing Harold had not yet told either of them was that he was going to New York for one purpose only: to become a poet.

Once, when he was ten, awed by the sight of wall-to-wall books in his mother's sister's home, Harold had announced that he meant someday to become a poet. Already he had his ivory tower to which he could escape, the place he called--not without some irony and linguistic fumbling--his ITL”[sanctum de la tour.]”ITL This was his real, his palpable world, with the afternoon light and evening shadows playing across the off-gray walls lined with his favorite prints and paintings. By sixteen, he was listening to his collection of classical and pop records on his windup Victrola every chance he got. Here, too, he kept the latest literary magazines, purchased from Laukhuff's Bookstore, and hid his cache of forbidden books, among them Boccaccio's Decameron , Oscar Wilde, and Aubrey Beardsley's decadent, woman-mocking prints. He stole perfume from his mother's desk to sprinkle in his room. His senses stimulated by the pricky stings and perfumed scents of his surroundings, he pecked away at his Corona typewriter, composing long, sensuous poems in the style of the yellow nineties, stealing his drugged rhythms from Swinburne, Lionel Johnson, and Wilde. Here, too, he read Coleridge, Shelley, and Poe, chewed endlessly on cigars, or sank his nose into an old pair of the maid's leather shoes for the exquisite scents to be found there.

    By Christmas 1915, he was already deep into a long, confused poem about the quest of the visionary poet, written in rhymed quatrains that evoked Swinburne's mesmeric, galloping anapests. In the poem--one he had the good sense finally to abandon--he pictured himself as a blind moth raised among butterflies, which for a brief moment had found itself rising upward into the empyrean to behold "Great horizons and systems and shores all along," only to find its wings crumpling and itself falling--like Icarus--back to earth. He was that moth, blessed too with an intense, too-brief glimpse of beauty, though unable to convey what he'd seen before he found himself falling from a great height.

    Did he put on the poem's knowledge with its power? For, clotted as the poem was, it seemed uncannily to foreshadow his own visionary flight and fall. Years later he would evoke the Icarian airman reaching into the dizzying empyrean before spinning back to earth to die. A leap followed by a fall. It was an image deep-wired into Crane's psyche from an early age.

    In the spring of 1916, he read a series of essays on Oscar Wilde's wretched life in Reading Gaol following his trial for homosexuality. These he'd found in a small Greenwich Village magazine called Bruno's Weekly , which he'd picked up at Laukhuff's. The fruit of Crane's meditation on the incarceration of this disgraced poet was a thirteen-line lyric that he finally sent off to Bruno's in the late summer of 1916, along with a letter praising the magazine's editor for daring to champion the work of the modern imagination.

    The poem itself was in the late Romantic mode found in Palgrave's Treasury , not unlike the sort of thing the young William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound had committed to paper a few years earlier. It was titled "C 33" (Wilde's cell number), and in it Crane praised the poet for wringing beauty out of the pain of his humiliation and incarceration. The poem also began that punning on Harold Hart ("Heart") Crane's own name that would become a signature of his poetry, as here he wove rose-vines "About the empty heart of night." The lyric also suggested that Grace, his beloved mother, hurt by life's betrayals, was to be his first, last Muse. And though his was as yet but "song of minor, broken strain," in time he hoped his words might come to enrich the "gold head/And wavering shoulders" of his "Materna."

    "C 33" appeared in the September issue of Bruno's . After that, Crane's name was elevated to grace the masthead as contributing editor. It was his first publication and he was ecstatic with his good fortune. Additional attempts he sent to William Carlos Williams at Others , one of the most avant garde of the new little magazines in the New York area. "Damn good stuff," Williams wrote back in mid-November. " Others is in a state of transition--to say the least, so--We'll keep your things in the hope that someday--someday--when we get some money--we may print them." Promises there, but no cigar. Crane had better luck with another Greenwich Village magazine, The Pagan , which used Beardsley prints to decorate its covers. "Dear Sir," Harold wrote the editor, Joe Kling, in a butter-up letter that appeared in the October number, "I am interested in your magazine as a new and distinctive chord in the present American Renaissance of literature and art. Let me praise your September cover: it has some suggestion of the exoticism and richness of Wilde's poems." To the letter he appended an exotic and rich exercise of his own: a ten-line imagist description of sunlight and moonlight alternately transforming a rural scene, perhaps seen from his own backyard. It was called "October-November," and Kling ran that in his November issue. Crane now had a second poem to his credits.

    There was one friend of the family, ten years Harold's senior, a painter who hailed from Warren, and who'd been helped substantially by Harold's aunt Zell and whom Harold had met earlier in the year in Cleveland. This was Carl Schmitt, and he had recently rented a studio apartment in New York on the Lower East Side. "With pipe, solitude and puppy for company, I am feeling resplendent," Crane wrote him at Thanksgiving. "After a day's work in a picture store selling mezzotints and prints, you may not think it, yet there comes a great peaceful exaltation in merely reading, thinking, and writing." He needed such quiet moments, he confided, because his family was coming apart under the strain of the imminent divorce. True, there'd been "tremendous struggles" in his life, but he had to believe there was also light at the end of it all.

    Working evenings at the bookstore gave him time during the days to write. After all, he was still only seventeen and sure he had the wherewithal to shape his destiny. Some day, he hoped, he would join Schmitt in New York and talk all this over with him man to man. Crane spoke about it as if it might happen in some distant future. But, as the fates would have it, with his father rooming at the Athletic Club and his mother off visiting friends in Chicago, he would find himself pounding the streets of New York within a month, ready to begin a life that was already half over. Two months earlier, returning with his friend Bill Wright from their Saturday afternoon dancing class, he'd told Wright of his plans to be a poet. So far he'd written only a few pale, imitative verses in an exhausted idiom. But seven years later, once more walking with Wright, this time down Fifth Avenue, Crane said he now believed he had it in him not only to become a poet--he'd long since passed that hurtle--but the greatest singer of their generation. He was twenty-three when he made that pronouncement, and already well on his way to fulfilling it.


Copyright © 1999 Paul Mariani. All rights reserved.

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