Sanguine Descendant: T. S. Eliot’s influence on Hart Crane’s poetry
Poetry, as a genre of literature, is broadly defined as “The art or work of a poet”, or “Imaginative or creative literature in general” (Oxford English Dictionary). With a definition so broad in context, poets are able to conceive their own literature as poetry by studying poems and poets before them. Subsequently, poets are able to extend or manipulate the ideas, structure, and themes of poems that preceded theirs. For instance, Thomas Stearns Eliot was the precursor for Harold Hart Crane. Crane’s work suggests that he studied Eliot’s writing, such as the way in which Eliot created movement with words and montage of metronomes. Not only did Crane emulate particular elements of Eliot’s work, but also and transformed the despairing themes in Eliot’s work into hopeful propositions for the future through his epic poem, “The Bridge”.
Eliot’s poetic work contains the movement of space and time, a predominant feature of which Crane also uses in his poetry. For example, the speaker in Eliot’s epic poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, creates a back-and-forth movement with his diction of thoughts. The speaker in this poem anticipatorily leads audiences to “an overwhelming question”(10), then remarks to the audience “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ (11), shortly thereafter. Subsequently, Eliot’s poem creates movement through the narrator’s thoughts, which begins to lead to a question and then shifts in movement as the narrator’s tone interject with a halt. In addition, Eliot further incorporates movement into his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” through physical movement of people. When describing, “the women [who] come and go Talking of Michelangelo”(35-36) for instance, the speaker depicts physical back-and-forth movement. By doing so, audiences may visualize an east to west movement as women talk of Michelangelo, a man who the speaker believes he cannot compare to because of his “bald spot in the middle of [his] hair…[and] arms and legs that are thin” (40-44). In a similar fashion, Crane describes physical movement in his poem, “The Bridge”. Beginning in the proem, To Brooklyn Bridge, the speaker establishes the setting through the imagery of a seagull, whose “wings shall dip and pivot him…building high over the chained bay waters Liberty-then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes” (2-5). The words “dip”, “high” and “curve” all within short two stanzas in the beginning of the poem allow audiences to imagine spatial movement just as the movement in Eliot’s poems does. Crane further takes his audience through a spatial journey in Atlantis, of which the speaker eloquently describes, the bridge moving in a vertical direction “Through the bound cable strands, the arching path upward (1-2), while the bridge connects east to west. While Crane emulates Eliot’s writing style that depicts physical movement, he alters the tone of movement in time.
While Eliot’s poetry manipulates time in a melancholic tone, Crane manipulates the movement of time in a hopeful tone. In Death By Water of Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland”, the speaker narrates Phlebas rising and falling as “he passed the stages of his age and youth entering a whirlpool” (317-18) while drowning. The speaker presents this morbid event and proposes for his audience, in particular to those who “look to windward” (320), to “Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you” (321). Thus, the speaker urges audience members with a positive mind to look back on history for malicious recalls rather than for hopeful insight. Crane transforms Eliot’s disposition by moving time into the past to inform the present in a more hopeful way. In Van Winkle of “The Bridge” for example, the speaker recalls instances of his mother and father, then tells Van Winkle to learn from the past, remarking “Have you got your ‘Times’_?” (47). By advising Van Winkle to get the “Times” (47), a news source, the speaker suggests that Van Winkle collect knowledge to inform his future. Unlike Eliot, who recalls the past for morbid thinking, Crane suggests that there is still hope. After recalling instances of his mother and father when he was young and urging Van Winkle to get the Times, the speaker of Crane’s poem strongly urges, “hurry along, Van Winkle- it’s getting late!” (48). Although “it’s getting late!” (48) may suggest limited time and urgency, it also acknowledges that there is more time available to persevere than drown. Crane, like Eliot, manipulates time in his poetry. However, Crane extends his disposition in a more positive way.
Crane’s literary montage style of poetry further depicts himself as the disciple of T. S. Eliot. As articulated in The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Eliot’s poetry is “made of fragments, they are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that might be joined if certain spiritual conditions were met” (461). In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for example, the speaker describes fragments of a woman’s body rather than describe the woman as a whole by admitting, “I have known the arms already, known them all-arms that are braceleted and white and bare (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair)” (62-64). Further, in this poem by Eliot, the speaker fragments his own self by comparing himself to “a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (73-74). Both the ways in which the speaker sexualizes the woman by her arms and the speaker portrays himself as no worthier than claws of a small creature on the seafloor, fragment whole objects into smaller pieces. Likewise, Crane also uses fragments in his poetry. Crane uses stanzas with a varied form that take place in different geographical locations from Manhattan waters in The Harbor Dawn (618) “through Ohio and Indiana” in The River (621). Crane further provides montages through fragments of attributions to historical icons such as Pocahontas, Christopher Columbus. Crane even provides references to other poets such as Edgar Allan Poe, playing on Poe’s famous quote “Nevermore!” of his poem “The Raven” by stating, “O evermore!” (78), in VII. The Tunnel of “The Bridge”. Crane uses these fragments of geographical locations and people to rely upon a message beyond its small parts. In Ava Maria, a beginning section of “The Bridge”, Crane includes a reference to Christopher Columbus, an icon who made a journey for a larger purpose. This suggests that the poem, like Columbus, carries a message. Unlike the montages about pieces of wholes that Eliot writes about, Crane writes about montages that possibly hold a message for the future.
While the speaker in Eliot’s poetry depicts a personal cry for help, the speaker in Crane’s poetry suggests a nationalistic cry for help and reformation. In Eliot’s poems, the speaker describes a hopeless world. In The Fire Sermon of “The Wasteland” for example, the speaker struggles to make connections with those around him. The speaker struggles with communication with his partner, who verbally begs, “Stay with me. Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak. What are you thinking of? What thinking? What? I never know what you are thinking. Think.” (111-114). The partner in The Fire Sermon verbally begs for some type of connection with the speaker of the poem, presumably because of his lack of connectivity with the world around him. Similarly, the speaker of The Burial of The Dead in “The Wasteland” separates himself from the world around them as they observe “a crowd flowed over London Bridge…[and] had not thought death has undone so many” (62-63). Thus, the speaker separates himself from the crowd and watches in the distance but not as a part of the community. Eliot’s work further portrays hopelessness in the section of “The Wasteland” entitled What the Thunder Said, in which a bridge symbolizes hopelessness as “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down” (427). In comparison, Crane’s poetry suggests that there is something missing in American culture, yet he offers a solution. In Crane’s proem to “The Bridge”, the speaker ends the first series of stanzas by insisting that the bridge can help even the “lowliest sometime sweep” (43), as for it will “descend and of the curveship lend a myth to God” (44). Crane uses the bridge as a symbol of hope and restoration and describes the curved architecture of the bridge capable of divine-like power. Crane portrays the Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol of hope and restoration for Americans If people recall history, suggested by his historical references of the bridge and historical figures, people can restore the present and positively change the future. Unlike Eliot’s falling bridge, Crane’s Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of hope for mankind. Elliot once claimed, “that when he started to write poetry no one writing in England or America could serve as a model (462). Luckily for Hart Crane, there had been influences to model poetic style, structure, theme and craft.
As one may observe, Hart Crane’s poetry contains many similar poetic traits to that of T. S. Eliot, which suggests that T. S. Eliot is a precursor to Hart Crane’s poetic work. Crane adopted Eliot’s trait of montage, visual and physical movement, and theme, to name a few. What differs between these two modern poets is the tone in which they write in. While Hart Crane’s epic, “The Bridge”, ends in “One Song [and unity of] one Bridge of Fire!” (93) as people call out together, Eliot’s poetry, exemplified by “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” ends in a melancholy tone, as the speaker speaks in third person and claims we are in chambers “Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (131). It is undoubtedly that Crane carries Eliot’s poetic tactics into his own work. Crane exceeds mere emulation of Eliot’s poetry but instead extends Eliot’s poetry by adding his own tone to his work. While Eliot’s poetic work suggests an end, the end of Crane’s works suggests a new beginning for its audience. Works Cited Eliot, Thomas S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.
Works Cited Eliot, Thomas S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. The Norton Anthology of Modern And Contemporary Poetry, 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Ed. Richard Ellmann, Ed. Robert O’Clair. Norton, 1988. 460-466. Print. Eliot, Thomas S. “The Wasteland”. The Norton Anthology of Modern And Contemporary Poetry, 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Ed. Richard Ellmann, Ed. Robert O’Clair. Norton, 1988. 474-487. Print. Crane, Hart H. “The Bridge”. The Norton Anthology of Modern And Contemporary Poetry, 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Ed. Richard Ellmann, Ed. Robert O’Clair. Norton, 1988. 604-646. Print. “Poetry, n.” Home: Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.