Hart Crane: After His Lights

By Brian M. Reed | Go to book overview

4
How to Write a Lyric

The last chapter, “How Modern,” repositioned Hart Crane's poetry within a novel literary-historical genealogy en route to an argument about what one, following Immanuel Kant, might call the purposive purposelessness of its excessive, overpowering artifice.1 In this narrative, Crane's work appears not as a dead end or a detour within the development of U.S. literature but rather as an important link between a prophetic-operatic strain in British poetics and the late-twentieth-century avant-garde's delight in nonsemantic, highly patterned uses of language. This chapter, “How to Write a Lyric,” delves further into Crane's “wasteful” poetics, especially its strangely evasive syntax and referential obliquity.

These traits are, of course, present in such Victorian precursors as Swinburne and Hopkins. They are especially pronounced in moments of rapt transport, as at the conclusion of “The Windhover”:

No wőnder

: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gáll themsélves, and gásh gold-vermílion. (Hopkins, Major Poems 67)

The enjambment, the interjection (“ah my dear”), the sentence fragment (“No wonder of it”), the spondees (“sheer plod,” “Fall, gall”), and the harshly alliterating monosyllables (“gash gold”) indicate the extremity of the speaker's emotions. This dramatic frame licenses the syntactical slippage present in the phrase “makes plough down sillion / Shine.” According to the OED, a “sillion” (an obsolete form of the word selion) is a ridge between two furrows, but the action that the plow takes is unclear.2 Is it “plowing down” this

-97-

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Hart Crane: After His Lights
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • A Note on Citation ix
  • Introduction - Hart Crane Again 1
  • Part One - Reading Crane 15
  • 1: How American 17
  • 2: How Queer 39
  • 3: How Modern 71
  • Part Two - Crane Writing 95
  • 4: How to Write a Lyric 97
  • 5: How to Write an Epic 126
  • Part Three - Reading Crane 167
  • 6: Paul Blackburn's Crane 169
  • 7: Frank O'Hara's Crane 195
  • 8: Bob Kaufman's Crane 225
  • Notes 247
  • Works Cited 271
  • Index 287
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