In the “The Broken Tower”, Paul Mariani, with his fluid and prosaic words captures the conflicted life of Hart Crane. On a page above, about the beginning of this book, I have recounted how Hart, embittered by family and social life, leaves home, Cleveland and goes to New York. He is only 19 years old. Hart loves New York for all of the cultural opportunities it provides and hates it for the dire poverty in which he finds himself there. Because he cannot make it in New York, financially, he returns at 19, to Cleveland, where his father C.A. Crane provides him with work in his flourishing Chocolate making business. Hart living with his mother and working for his father, feels he is nothing more than a slave, for which his dad gives him a meager wage. A wealthy but stingy father becomes a recurring experience throughout Cranes days. Crane, after a time in Cleveland where by day he works for his father and by night works on his writing, unless he has some lover he has found on the side, which can entertain him in sexual debauchery in the lowlier parts of town. Eventually, Hart becomes fed up, with a nagging mother, upset about her sons reckless drinking habits around the house, and with his father’s blind folded approach to his son’s needs and wishes. Home as Ohio is just a reminder of his unhappy life growing up with fighting parents and a dysfunctional high school education, from which he eventually dropped out. Hart exist in great contrast to his father the industrialists and pursues the bums, the hoboes, the outsiders the runaways, the homeless, the ragged remnants of the old pioneers all of which stand in contrast to his industrious, tight, money making father, C.A. Crane. In spite of his unhappiness, Hart took his early friendships very seriously and continued to stay in touch with his high school friends, George Bryan and Bill Wright.
The illustrious part of Hart’s story is that although he gets back to New York, and is still living in poverty, he moves in the circle of some very renowned artists and writers, who recognize the value of his poetry and in fact some of his older artists friends believe that Crane is the greatest new american poet. The one who captures the essence of this budding homeland. Among the artists Crane befriends are; Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe, Eugene O’Neill, John Dos Passos, Waldo Frank and many more. Along with Waldo Frank, Hart sought to pursue the mystical essence of America and lamented the common americans disdain for anything in the past in constant pursuit of something new. In my opinion this continues to be the great dichotomy of the American dream, pushing forward finding ourselves, letting go of our past, yet for some always going back in time to recapture our essence. America is like a child growing up, forgetting and recalling bits and pieces, along the way. In his work “The Bridge”, Hart creates a dreamworld, a synthesis of America. In “The Bridge”, Hart transforms history into abstract matter and explores the mystical aspects of this giant machine.
Hart was enthralled by the photography of Stieglitz and felt his images embodied the very essence of his own poetry of a higher consciousness. In Stieglitz photography Hart found captured the emotion of things, the static state of matter, converging with motion. He loved how Stieglitz was able to capture motion in stillness Like Stieglitz, Hart wanted to fuse together nature, man and imagination and transcend limits of time and space. Hart saw modern man with a divided mind, like ‘the columns of a newspaper’.
Along with Stieglitz, Hart admired Sherwood Anderson and James Joyce. He also thought that the language of american literature had to imbue itself with the complexity of words and structures devised by the great classics, such as Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson, John Donne. In Hart’s mind only the imagination, coupled with technique and style, could result in the stark realism he was searching. For him, only the imagination is real. In the same vein, Hart’s realism caught the strangeness of material, with symbolic references resulting in a complexity of design. Other artists, sometimes referred to as the New Patricians and of the same school of thinking, were Munson, EE Cummings, Edmund Wilson, Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, to name a few. In addition, Hart admired the photographic work of Hervey Minns and the work by Henry James, “The American”. One could say as an understatement that Crane immersed himself intensely in the pursuit of understanding and creating art and did not exist in his own capsule, but rather looked outward at what other artists were after.
Although it is true that Hart looked to other artists, few of those influences included women. In fact, perhaps in part because of his homosexual tendencies Crane believed that women were not capable of achieving the higher level of consciousness he was after and that much of their work was of a trite and sentimental nature. (There are many writers today who see this male disdain for female artistic work and are looking in more depth at what women wrote, especially as it relates to the reality women experienced in their lives.) There were two female artists whom Crane haled and they were Emily Dickinson and dancer, Isadora Duncan. Mariani states that Crane would dance with women at parties and admired many, such as Agnes O’Neill, the wife of Eugene, he pretty much kept his distance from them. Ironically, however, Crane did depend on friends to help him financially and take him into their home, such as the O’Neill’s in Connecticut where Crane had quite a long and bucolic sojourn. In this case and an earlier case, it was usually a couple, a man and wife who would take him in and nurture him.
With Crane’s second return to New York, he eventually finds a job which will sustain him, but he begins to miss work, blaming it on the grippe to his supervisor when in reality it was due to his drink, an obsessive addiction of Hart, which he unfortunately used to fuel his writing. Amidst this reality Hart’s father asks him to come back and take up the family business, but Hart, after some thought, writes to him and declares that he is definitively a poet and not a businessman. He explains all of the important artist friends he has made and Clarence impressed understands his son’s vocation and even sends him some financial help, but then this stops and Hart falls into such dire poverty with a severe drinking problem, that he loses everyone’s confidence. Even his friends won’t support him financially any longer.
As I continue the story of Hart Crane, told by Paul Mariani, I shall return to recount the aspects, I find to be most important and compelling in the life of this most tragic artist, Hart Crane.