Written by Paul Mariani, “The Broken Tower” is a biography of Harold Hart Crane, better known simply as Hart Crane. Hart met a tragic end at the young age of 33 years and led a tortured life. An only child, Hart was entangled in the unhappy and conflicted marriage of his parents, Grace Hart and Clarence A. Crane. This married couple met strident differences from the onset, separated once when Hart was very young, tried to get back together again, only to make a final separation and divorce when Hart was in his teens. According to Mariani, Hart blamed, his misguided youth and young adulthood on the inconsistencies in his parent’s life. Because of their embroiled and self absorbed lives, the parental attention that Hart needed was not delivered. Attention was never given in matters, such as, how would he pursue a successful life. His father remarried and moved further West, while his mother, albeit a depressive person, who spent much of her time trying to shake the blues, did make an attempt to look for colleges for Hart, but to no avail. When Hart was but seventeen and left for New York for the first time, to find himself, his mother went with him. There they lived, unbeknownst to Clarence, on his father’s account. This of course was not welcomed by the patriarch, and they both eventually returned to Cleveland. In reading this biography it seems that his mother, Grace, was genuinely concerned for her son’s well-being, and made efforts to help him financially and emotionally, gestures that were thwarted by her debilitated mental health and the lack of her ex-husband’s support. Clarence, a man of means, essentially gave his ex-wife meager financial support and nothing to Hart. Although there were examples of his father helping him out, so to speak, this ended when Hart basically severed ties with his father. Any financial help Grace gave to Hart, was money that his father had intended for her and once Hart was aware that she was giving to him what she needed for herself, he stopped asking her for help. At nineteen, after a sojourn living in Cleveland and working odd jobs, Hart finally returned to New York, indefinitely, living a life of poverty, among other bohemian friends.
There are many interesting facts about Hart’s early life. He was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, where his father’s family had ancestry roots. When he was two the Crane’s moved to Warren, Ohio. They all eventually moved to Cleveland, where Hart attended public school through high school. When his parents began having marital issues, he and his mother moved in with her mother in Cleveland. The maternal grandparents figured largely in Hart’s life. Another interesting anecdote about Hart is how his pen name came to be. When he first began submitting poetry, his mother urged him to include the maternal family name in signing his work. Thus he signed his name Harold Hart Crane. At some point when the recipients of his poetry showed a preference for simplifying his name to Hart Crane, the title began to stick. Clarence was aghast at this action and wanted the name Harold to be prominent, a wish that was never granted. His son became known as, Hart Crane. Other interesting aspects of Hart are his reaction to his education. Always excelling in the Language Arts and writing, Hart nonetheless, by what Mariani describes, had all the characteristics of a attention deficit student. He had problems concentrating and completing his work and was not a model student by any means. Hart really exemplified the true misguided american boy, out looking for himself, grounded in stark reality and unable to create fantastic dreams for himself, as much as he tried. His poetry is an example of this stark realism verging on surrealistic tendencies.
As I read about Hart’s life, read his poetry, letters and essays, what I can see is a very adept writer’s necessity to obliquely and formally express his struggle with himself, and society. Perhaps it was his obstinacy, and inability to break away from his role as writer, and search for personal happiness, that brought him to his self destructive end. His drive and failure to make something of himself and be recognized as a serious poet in his own day and age, is the embodiment of the broken american dream. Perhaps in his life we can envision a bit of our own past, our families and the sadness passed down in time. It is out of this sadness, a sense of abandonment that the dreamer continues to dream. It is the continual pursuit of the American Dream, that thrives on the minute moments of success, along the struggling way. Hart was an un-nurtured boy who looked for love around him, and learned that accepting a broken heart, was the norm in his life.