Hart Crane: After His Lights

By Brian M. Reed | Go to book overview
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Introduction
Hart Crane Again

Hart Crane spent the night of 26 April 1932 as he did many other nights in his short life. He drank compulsively, and then he sought out sailors who might be interested in quick, no-consequences sex. This time, he chose badly. He received a thorough thrashing. While unfortunate, this outcome was no surprise. He had previously been beaten, robbed, and otherwise humiliated during his nocturnal escapades.1 Part of the pattern, too, was morning-after remorse. The next day he greeted his fiancée Peggy Baird with a typically melodramatic declaration: “I'm not going to make it, dear. I've utterly disgraced myself” (Fisher 500–1).

The setting and the circumstances, alas, were not typical. Crane and Baird were aboard the cruise ship Orizaba, sailing north from Veracruz to New York City. Worse, Baird had suffered a freak accident—an exploding cigarette lighter—that left her burned, bandaged, and temporarily sedated. As noon approached on 27 April, she was still too thoroughly muddled to be much help. Drunk, disoriented, shamed, and cut off from the friends, relatives, and lovers that had sustained him through earlier, comparable crises, Crane impulsively decided to kill himself. The Orizaba was 275 miles out of Havana and following the Tropic of Cancer:

Heedless of the curious glances that followed his progress along the
deck, Crane walked quickly to the stern of the ship, and scarcely paus-
ing to slip his coat from his shoulders, vaulted over the rail into the
boiling wake.

The alarm was general and immediate. There was a clangor of bells
as the ship's engines ground into reverse; life preservers were thrown

-1-

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