Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Crossing Brooklyn Bridge: An Ekphrastic Correspondence between Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and Henry Miller

Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Crossing Brooklyn Bridge: An Ekphrastic Correspondence between Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and Henry Miller

Article excerpt

The life of the highly influential, yet often poorly understood, American poet Hart Crane (1899-1933), who was a contemporary of Henry Miller's, was sadly cut short by suicide. Nevertheless, Miller revered Crane, which can be seen in the handful of instances that he writes about him, once briefly in a letter to Pierre Lesdain dated May 3, 1950, found in The Books in My Life (1952). Miller does not pay much mind to Crane specifically in this reference, as he is directly relaying the content of a letter from Sherwood Anderson to Theodore Dreiser from 1936 in which Anderson is concerned with the necessity for writers and artists "to build up a kind of network of relationships" (Miller quoting Anderson, 217). Nevertheless, Crane is mentioned here in Miller's letter in light of his suicide, as one of two mentioned "well-known American poets," who sadly met untimely, self-inflicted ends--Vachel Lindsay being the other (217). (1) Miller quotes Anderson, who suggests that such terrible fates could be avoided through closer, namely literary, companionships. Anderson's theory to Dreiser states that if these two writers, "among others," had been involved in such a network, they may have found solace from their painful solitude and depression through the letter-writing, in a community of writers exchanging support through correspondence. Although Miller mentions Crane only in passing in this instance, there is tremendous significance specifically in this reference for two reasons: (1) the obvious point, but which is pertinent to the basis of this article, is the fact that Miller was clearly aware of Crane as an important poet; and (2) Anderson's concept, appropriated by Miller, of literary support and influence is profoundly relevant to the claims made in this article concerning literary intertextuality and ekphrasis. On the first point, a more striking reference to Crane by Miller might be more suitable. Such a one is found in Miller's preface to Stand Still like the Hummingbird (1962), where he again writes of Crane's tragic end but does so while notably equating him with some of the greatest American writers:

   We know the fate of Melville, of Poe, of Hart Crane, to
   mention only the most familiar names. The list is long, and
   the accounts of tribulations which our men of genius have
   endured are shameful to read. (viii)

Miller clearly admired Crane's talent and lamented his loss, as did many writers at the time, including those to be associated with the "Death School," such as Walter Lowenfels, Michael Fraenkel, Anais Nin and Caresse Crosby. (2) Indeed, as part of the Death School, Walter Lowenfels, surrealist poet and communist, wrote "The Suicide" in 1934, a long poem about Crane's death.

This first point establishes an obvious fact, but it is the second point that has specific relevance to the discussion at hand. Miller agrees with Anderson that writers should deliberately rely on one another, and, in fact, Miller writes, "we the older ones have more to learn from the young than they from us" (218). Both Miller and Anderson are of course referring to actual letter-writing, to living writers exchanging correspondence and maintaining a discourse, a practical exercise for a writer's psychological well-being and sense of camaraderie and, secondarily, perhaps for assisting in the development of a writer's metier (even if "by this effort, [they] produce less as writers," Anderson reflects [217].). This is a fantastic proposal on the part of Anderson, one that Miller is keen to enact for his own part. Yet, a dramatic undercurrent can be read in this analysis that is applicable in another sense of correspondence that can be applied to Crane and Miller with their literary precursor, Walt Whitman. Joining these three is not exactly the forging of a new connection in literary analysis, but what is a new analysis is considering the relation between these writers as a series of correspondences, established through a certain selection of poems and prose passages, that answers both backwards and forwards to each writer, out of space and time. …

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