O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane

O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane

O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane

O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane


O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane collects the most significant letters from one of America's most evocative modern poets into a document as passionate, revealing, and ultimately as tragic as Crane's short life. He died at the age of thirty-two. Of the 1200 letters that survive, this edition selects over three hundred that best illustrate the complexity and textures of Crane's life - from family pressures to his creative ambition, to his homosexuality. These letters served as his notebook, his diary, his workshop, and confessional. Preserving ideas, observations, speculations and even drafts of poems, Crane's letters richly document his intelligence and imagination, as well as his alcoholism and self-destruction, more intimately than any biography. And whatever the myth of Crane's indulgences may hold, these letters show that Crane was dedicated as an artist striving to create uniquely American poetry.


It is generally conceded that the most powerful construction that can be built by words is the poem. It is compact, with an intensity made of words which draw their power and savor from contiguous words despite the analogous meaning. I am already thinking of Crane's very personal manner of dealing with the parts of speech (e.g. can spoor be a verb? Crane decides that it can; moreover, he makes it transitive). This is one way to achieve the tight-knit phrase. More important are his metaphors, which go straight to the heart of his intention. For sixty years I have wondered why I remember such images as "gongs in white surplices" and "The tarantula rattling at the lily's foot." Very likely even the largest spider does not rattle, but I accepted the word and have never forgotten the phrases. The Harbor Dawn, from which the first quotation is taken, is a wondrously effective symphonic description of sound.

When I was in Taxco, five years after Crane had left it, people still told of how he had climbed to the turret of the Cathedral of Santa Prisca at sunrise and made the bell ring out over the town, something he had no right to do, but for which apparently he was not punished, drunkenness not being considered a serious evil in that tolerant place.

Later, the same year, he indulged in another alcoholic prank which ended his life, when he threw himself over the rail of the S.S. Orizaba into the sea. An eyewitness reported that immediately afterward he was swimming, but this was surely not because he had changed his mind and no longer wished to die. He probably hoped to attract the attention of a passing shark.

The suicidal leap into the Atlantic was impressive, possibly more so than the poetry at the time. Throughout the four decades of my friendship with Tennessee Williams, he remained obsessed by the Crane legend, to the extent of expressing in his last will and testament the desire that his body be deposited as nearly as possible at the same spot where Hart Crane had drowned. Unfortunately his younger brother insisted on a church funeral and traditional burial, thus frustrating posthumously Tennessee's wish to join his idol in death.

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