Harold Hart Crane

(1899 – 1932)





Regard the capture here, 0 Janus-faced, 
As double as the hands that twist this glass. 
Such eves at search or rest you cannot see; 
Reciting pain or glee, how can you bear! 

Twin shadowed halves: the breaking, second holds t, 
In each the skin alone, and so it is 
I crust a plate of vibrant mercury 
Borne cleft to you, and brother in the half. 

Inquire this much-exacting fragment smile, 
Its drums and darkest blowing leaves ignore,- 
Defer though, revocation of the tears 
That yield attendance to one crucial sign. 

Look steadily-how the wind feasts and spins 
The brain's disk shivered against lust. Then watch 
While darkness, like an ape's face, falls away, 
And gradually white buildings answer day. 

Let the same nameless gulf beleaguer us- 
Alike suspend us from atrocious sums 
Built floor by floor on shafts of steel that grant 
The plummet heart, like Absalom, no stream. 

The highest tower,-let her ribs palisade 
Wrenched gold of Nineveh;-yet leave the tower. 
The bridge swings over salvage, beyond wharves; 
A wind abides the ensign of your will . . . 

In alternating bells have you not heard 
All hours clapped dense into a single stride? 
Forgive me for an echo of these things, 
And let us walk through time with equal pride. 





Contempla a presa aqui, ó rosto de Jano,

Duplo como as mãos que torcem este copo.

Olhos como estes, em busca ou repouso, não verás_

Recitando dor ou alegria, como é que hás-de suportar?


Meias sombras geminadas, clivando-se a segunda-feira

Segura em cada a pele apenas, e assim,

Faço em crosta um prato de mercúrio a vibrar

Trazido-te fendido, e irmão na metade.


Indaga este severíssimo fragmento, sorri,

Ignora o seu rufar e as folhas que sopram mais sombrias –

Porém, protela, revogação das lágrimas

Que cedem atenção a um signo crucial.


Fixa o olhar – como o vento se regala e faz rodopiar

O disco do cérebro a tremer contra a volúpia. Observa

Depois a escuridão, qual rosto de símio, dissolvendo-se,

E prédios brancos gradualmente respondendo ao dia.


Que o mesmo inominável abismo nos sitie –

Nos suspenda por igual de atrozes somas

Erguidas piso a piso sobre tubos de aço que ao coração

De prumo não concedem, como Absalão, uma torrente.


A torre mais alta – cerque a paliçada das suas vigas

O ouro de Nínive arrancado; -  deixa, contudo, a torre.

A ponte balouça sobre os salvados, para lá do cais;

O vento sustenta a ensígnia da tua vontade…


Não ouviste tu, no alternar dos sinos,

As horas, todas em aplauso, densas como num só passo?

Perdoa-me um eco destas coisas,

E caminhemos pelo tempo com igual orgulho.


Tradução de João Ferreira Duarte, em "LEITURAS, poemas do inglês", Relógio de Água, 1993. ISBN 972-708-204-1 





Directories:         O        O       O


Poems:            O        O        O        O        O        O


Modern American Poetry


Hart Crane in The New York Times


Hart Crane Page (Michael Eiichi Hishikawa)


Brooklyn Bridge: facto ou símbolo?, de Ana Maria Marques da Costa



To Brooklyn Bridge

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
—Till elevators drop us from our day ...

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn ...
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon ... Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,—

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year ...

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.





Carrier Letter

My hands have not touched water since your hands, –
No; – nor my lips freed laughter since 'farewell'.
And with the day, distance again expands
Between us, voiceless as an uncoiled shell.
Yet, – much follows, much endures... Trust birds alone:
A dove's wings clung about my heart last night
With surging gentleness; and the blue stone
Set in the tryst-ring has but worn more bright.




Volume 6, Number 5 · March 31, 1966



By Kay Boyle

In response to Hart Crane  (January 20, 1966)

To the Editors:

Edward Dahlberg's review of Hart Crane's letters (Jan. 20) is the finest piece on Crane that I have read. The elusiveness of the man (and poet) and his desperate "bedlamite shrieks of a soul sunk like Atlantis" (Dahlberg) as well as Crane's "green sea cries towering out of the foam," are suddenly and unexpectedly revived. It is as if Crane himself had come to disturb us again, reeling into a room, into a cafe, tender, effusive, outraged, outcast.

There is one correction I would like to make in this article of Edward Dahlberg's, and one question I would like to ask. The correction is this: the "castle" to which Harry Crosby invited Hart Crane, and where he hoped he would finish writing "The Bridge," was actually a mill. It was situated close to Paris, on the estate of the Rochefoucaulds and it was the mill which, in other centuries, had ground the flour for the nobility thereabouts. It was known quite simply as "Le Moulin," and Hart Crane and I made numerous visits there. But, despite its simplicity, it was not an easy place to work in. The company of other writers, of painters, and sculptors, and of visiting celebrities, made it a much too diverting place.

The question is this: Did Crane really end his life because, as Edward Dahlberg writes, he could not, on that return trip from Mexico, face the reality of himself "once more as a penniless urchin in New York"? Was it not, rather, that Crane, so desperately eager to accomplish the work that would establish his right to be our myth, came back from Mexico with the Guggenheim year a lost year behind him—returned, that is, without the only thing he wanted, and that we hoped for, the poem he had dreamed of, talked of, written of, and did not write? I believe he could have faced (to quote Dahlberg again) "the ignominy of level, average days" had the poem been there on paper instead of closed in jubilant anguish in his heart.

Kay Boyle

San Francisco

Published: 07 - 14 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section 7 , Column 1 , Page 12




Condensing Eternity




A Life.
By Clive Fisher.
Illustrated. 567 pp. New Haven:
Yale University Press.


THE last person to see Hart Crane alive recalled watching the 32-year-old poet vault over the stern rail of the S.S. Orizaba bound for New York out of Vera Cruz: ''Just once I saw Crane, swimming strongly, but never again.'' And according to the ship's captain, ''If the propellers didn't grind him to mincemeat, then the sharks got him immediately.'' Thus the American Rimbaud ended his life in 1932, the saddest of our poets, as the English critic Clive Fisher shows in a penetrating and absorbing biography.

Was the desperate drunk who jumped overboard the same poet his fellow voyager saw swimming strongly? Did the suicide come to his senses in the cold sea and have a change of heart? Fisher shows there were several Cranes, some doomed and others bound to live forever.

He was born Harold Hart Crane in Garretsville, Ohio, in 1899, the only child of an Ohio businessman (later the founder of the Crane Chocolate Company) and a vain Chicago beauty who wanted a show-business career. The marriage failed and the boy became a pawn in its endgame. He was by turns smothered with affection and neglected, as his parents -- in flight from each other -- abandoned him to the care of his maternal grandparents in Cleveland.

Poetry was his refuge. He read Byron, Swinburne, Marlowe and the dialogues of Plato, who spoke of the divine madness of poets. Crane wrote his first publishable poem at 16, a year after witnessing such strife between his parents that he twice attempted suicide. In his mid-teens he had his first homosexual encounter. At 17 Crane quit school and headed for Manhattan. His father promised to support him if he would resume his formal education. He never did; instead he read widely -- Elizabethan drama, Whitman and the French symbolists. He took up smoking cigars, drinking red wine and listening to jazz in pursuit of the systematic derangement Rimbaud required of poets.

So began a 15-year search for a home, sustenance, love and fame. In and out of New York, back and forth to Ohio to work for his father, then to London, Paris, Los Angeles and Mexico, courtesy of wealthy patrons. Crane never did find a home, a lasting lover or an income to suit his prodigal ways. He wrote in furnished rooms and cheap hotels, his phonograph blaring. For a while he shared a farmhouse with Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, where he composed some of his masterpiece, ''The Bridge,'' before his drinking and megalomania drove him from their good graces.

When his father curtailed his allowance, Crane worked in advertising. ''A bizarre choice of occupation for an idealistic poet: there is something about Hart Crane's life that suggests an instability of identity,'' Fisher writes. No job that prostituted words for sales could hold him for very long.

Likewise, in his love affairs Crane set himself up for failure, as if doomed to re-enact the melodrama of his parents' ruinous marriage. Fisher richly portrays the homosexual subcultures of New York, Washington and Hollywood in the 1920's, explaining that Crane preferred to pursue sailors and rough trade in harbor speakeasies. There were ''safe resorts'' in most cities. Such ''hazardous stalking,'' Fisher says, ''was part of the larger romanticism of a life and a poetry that both avoided ready solutions.'' Crane's one sustained affair, with Emil Opffer, a Danish sailor, in 1924, thrived as much upon Oppfer's absence as on his ambivalent companionship.

Crane's poetry in magazines made him a sensation in his teens. His genius was hailed by the critics Gorham Munson, Waldo Frank, Malcolm Cowley and Allen Tate. They became Crane's best friends, championing his ''metaphysical'' poetry during a 1920's campaign against materialism, pragmatism and T. S. Eliot's pessimism. Crane was a generous friend, a brilliant talker with a childlike vulnerability and charm -- as long as he was sober. Drunk, he was often described as ''a hurricane,'' variously clownish, maudlin, abusive and paranoid.

When his first book, ''White Buildings,'' was published in 1927, Yvor Winters called Crane one of ''the five or six greatest poets writing in English.'' That year alcoholism finally took hold. In a sodden rage Crane threw the typewriter on which he was writing ''The Bridge'' out his window. He struggled painfully to finish the book-length poem during years when his drunken brawls got him jailed in Paris and New York. When ''The Bridge'' finally was published in 1930, the consensus was that Crane had produced a major work, one critic calling it ''the most remarkable attempt at an orchestrated modern American poem since Eliot's 'Waste Land.' '' But H. P. Lovecraft, horrified by Crane's appearance, wrote: ''At the very crest of fame he is on the verge of psychological, physical and financial disintegration.''

By then Crane had made his mark. One test of major poetry is that if we imagine eradicating the work from history, significant branches of the tradition vanish with it. Poets who came of age after Crane's death, like Dylan Thomas, Theodore Roethke, Kenneth Patchen, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and James Merrill, could not have developed as they did had they not known Crane's compound metaphors and his melodic line. Poems like his ''Black Tambourine'' have the monolithic authority of Cycladic sculpture. Unable to read Mallarmé in French, Crane somehow imported the practice of poésie pure into America. He creates a hyperspace where verses exist both as referential speech and almost palpable three-dimensional objects (''The willows carried a slow sound, / A sarabande the wind mowed on the mead.'') And unlike Wallace Stevens's disembodied music, Crane's voice is always poignantly human.

Crane's method of searching dictionaries for rare words, building sonorous lines from golden phrases while measuring his progress against jazz riffs, anticipates Jack Kerouac and the action painters of the 1950's. His mixed metaphors, incongruities and assaults on logic prefigure the American surrealists of the 1960's and poets as diverse as John Ashbery and Barbara Guest, Michael Palmer and James Tate.

After John Unterecker's ample ''Voyager'' (1969), no life of Hart Crane was published for 30 years. Meanwhile much of Crane's correspondence surfaced, as did relevant memoirs and letters by Malcolm Cowley and Katherine Anne Porter. The poet and biographer Paul Mariani used some of this in his probing, vivid biography, ''The Broken Tower'' (1999). With a poet's sympathy, Mariani overdraws Crane as a tragic hero.

Clive Fisher's advantage is his critical distance on a subject that arouses native passions and prejudices. His is a perfectly balanced literary biography, placing the poems in the context of Crane's life and times so that they illuminate his verses. His explication of the poetry is incisive if sometimes strained, as when he discusses the enigmatic ''Lachrymae Christi.'' Exegesis of Crane grows specious when it imposes logic upon metaphors Crane contrived to evoke emotion and states of mind rather than to convey linear meaning.

Fisher's long sentences and paragraphs -- although sometimes stretched to the breaking point -- deliver a seamless narrative of compelling momentum. He captures the loneliness and pathos of Crane the maverick, Crane the prodigal son, the blowhard, the drunken buffoon, the forlorn lover, burning bridge after bridge until he was caught, in his own words, ''like a rat in a trap.''

Hart Crane committed suicide on April 27, 1932, at noon. In his poem ''Legend'' (1924) he had written:

Then, drop by caustic drop,

a perfect cry

Shall string some constant

harmony, --

Relentless caper for all those who step

The legend of their youth into

the noon.

The lines are prophetic. Crane surrendered his legend to us when the burden of it had become more than he alone could bear. His youth, his revealing letters and a hundred poems were his legacy. He leapt from life into the language where he survives, a major poet, still ''swimming strongly.''


Daniel Mark Epstein is the author of ''What My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay.'' His new book of poetry is ''The Traveler's Calendar.''



Published: 06 - 11 - 2002 ,  Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 3 , Page 7


A Road to Destruction Paved With Fine Words


A Life
By Clive Fisher
Illustrated. 567 pages. Yale University Press. $39.95.


With its sonorous language and jumped-up rhythms, the poetry of Hart Crane (1899-1932) is like Bruckner scored for jazz quartet. Its content is similarly syncretic: high-low, old style-new style. You need to bring a lot to his work -- alertness, empathy, patience -- to get something out of it. But what you get is the grandest American Romantic voice since Walt Whitman.

Crane's life was not grand. It was short, messy, stupifyingly self-destructive, and in the end as luridly predictable as a summer page-turner. It continues to make him a magnetic figure even to audiences who have read little of his slender output. And it has been documented in several biographies, of which the latest, ''Hart Crane: A Life'' by Clive Fisher, is in many ways the best.

Each book adds something to the one that preceded it. Paul Mariani's ''Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane'' (1999), oddly slack, for the first time dealt openly with the poet's homosexuality, an important thing to do. Mr. Fisher's primary contribution is in his book's sheer wealth of detail, its exhaustive harvesting of known, elaborated, corrected or newly uncovered data.

Not only is Crane's family history, reaching back into colonial America, meticulously documented; so is his precocious Midwestern childhood, and the who-what-when-and-where of his adult years, with their tangle of amorous encounters and conflicted friendships, marathon drinking and bursts of creativity. By the time you see Crane leaping from a ship to his death in the Caribbean in the last chapter, you feel almost suffocated by his manic, addicted life.

That life began in Garrettsville, Ohio. Crane's father was a work-obsessed entrepreneur who ran a candy company. His mother, Grace, was a vain, hypochondriacal beauty, with theatrical aspirations. An only child, Crane always saw himself as a victim of their bad marriage and emotional obtuseness, and said so to everyone. Mr. Fisher makes an effort to rehabilitate at least the father's reputation, but neither parent offers much to admire.

While they were embroiled in their marital dramas, Crane was left to raise himself, with unorthodox results. Bored to distraction by high school, he left in his junior year and never went to college. Instead he found an ivory tower of his own: a room in his grandparents' turreted Victorian home, where he ended up when his parents separated.

There he read prodigiously: Stendahl, Whitman, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Rimbaud, John Donne, Emily Dickinson and Oscar Wilde, all in his early teens. He also wrote his first poems. Almost from the start he used alcohol and music to induce a state of creative excitement. And striking the right, productive balance between not enough and too much stimulation became a major concern for the rest of his career.

But alcohol wasn't his only fuel. Fame was another. He came to New York at 17 to be a literary star; he eventually achieved his goal. And then there was the need for cash. Although born into wealth, Crane was chronically broke. His parents provided a little help, but in dribs and drabs. He worked various jobs to support himself -- as an advertising copywriter, as a salesman, as a paid companion -- but each ended quickly and bitterly.

When he was handed occasional lump sums of ''free'' money -- the financier Otto Kahn gave him a year's stipend to finish his great cycle of 15 poems titled ''The Bridge'' -- it almost instantly vanished. After he'd repaid his creditors, he had little left, and that went to liquor, lovers and apartments, memorably one in Brooklyn Heights with a spectacular view of New York Harbor.

By 1931, when he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to write in Mexico, he was at the height of his career. ''The Bridge'' had appeared and although the reviews were mixed -- Yvor Winters dismissed it as ''a form of hysteria'' -- his brilliance was almost universally acknowledged. Yet physically and emotionally, he was on a downhill road.

A man of immense personal charm, he became a vituperative, house-trashing menace. As if in a final bid to be ''normal,'' he began an affair with a woman, while pining for men. When he saw that his signature subject -- ''Myth of America'' -- had lost credibility among other poets and intellectuals in the Depression years, he stopped writing. With his grant money gone and his mind in chemical fog, he left Mexico for New York and one day at noon, dressed in his pajamas, he took the plunge.

Mr. Fisher gets all of this down, year by year, month by month, sometimes even day by day. Although his detail-intensive approach initially feels fussy and airless, it gradually assumes a kind of total-immersion density with its own sense of unhurried propulsiveness.

This pacing helps him sustain a distance from his subject: he lets you see why people were attracted to and repelled by Crane. It also lets him approach the poetry in depth, and with undisguised sympathy.

Maybe it takes a non-American -- Mr. Fisher is British and has previously written biographies of Noël Coward and Cyril Connolly -- to appreciate the peculiar, exotic Americanness of Crane's work, which is largely a product of its contradictions. It is guileless and grandiloquent, finely wrought and maladroit, fastidious and overbearing. Crane was an old man when he died at 33, but his best work has a youthful, dewy gravity, as in the famous lines that open ''The Bridge'':

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest

The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,

Shedding white rings of tumult, building high

Over the chained bay waters Liberty

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes

As apparitional as sails that cross

Some page of figures to be filed away;

-- Till elevators drop us from our day

The poem begins with a man crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan on his way to work in the morning and ends with his return home back across the bridge at midnight. In between comes a universe of experience, one that embraces personal history and New World history, Times Square and Atlantis, arias and torch songs, death and resurrection, sex and prayers. In a sense, it's the story of Crane's interior life shaped into a work of poetic magic. Mr. Fisher's fine book gives an authoritative account of that shaping, and conveys a sense of that magic and its awful, exhausting cost.

Correction: June 17, 2002, Monday

A book review on Tuesday about ''Hart Crane: A Life,'' by Clive Fisher, referred incorrectly to prior public discussion of Crane's homosexuality. It indeed occurred -- in John Unterecker's ''Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane'' (1969); ''Paul Marini's ''Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane'' (1999) was not the first biography to deal with the subject.




Published: 07 - 18 - 1999 , Late Edition - Final , Section 7 , Column 1 , Page 9


Sex and the City


The Broken Tower
A Life of Hart Crane.
By Paul Mariani.
Illustrated. 492 pp. New York:
W. W. Norton & Company. $35.


Born 100 years ago, on July 21, 1899, the poet Hart Crane grew up with the new century and chose it as his theme, feeling himself to be ''quite fit to become a suitable Pindar for the dawn of the machine age, so called.'' Not that Crane was nave about modernity. He saw both its promise and its threat. What it promised was release, for his generation, from the economic and sexual disciplines of 19th-century puritanism: a liberation into pleasure, creativity, community. The threat was that this vision wouldn't be shared, and modern America would offer nothing to take the place of God -- nothing to value or believe in but money. He also understood that this danger couldn't simply be denied: it would have to be faced and overcome.

Crane's struggle to defend his affirmative vision, which ended with his suicide in 1932, is the heroic story Paul Mariani narrates in ''The Broken Tower,'' the first biography of Crane to appear in 30 years. Like other suicides, Crane's spectacular death -- he killed himself by leaping, quite drunk, from the stern of a passenger ship into the Caribbean, his body never to be recovered -- left behind the question of who or what was to blame. Was Crane's death the necessary outcome of his quest for ''ecstasy'' (one of his favorite words), a lesson in the perils of romanticism? Or did the fault lie with his culture, readers and family -- everyone who, failing to understand his art, had driven him to despair? Mariani doesn't answer these old questions. His aim isn't to moralize Crane's life but to retell it as ''a great Greek tragedy'' in Jazz Age dress.

The tragedy -- which has its richly comic side -- begins in Ohio, where Harold Hart Crane was born. He was the only child of Clarence Arthur Crane, the creator of the Life Saver (''For That Stormy Breath''), who made a fortune manufacturing cheap sweets, and Grace Hart, a neurasthenic devotee of Christian Science, who, after her divorce from C. A. in 1917, focused her increasingly unstable emotional life on the poetic career of their son. It was Grace who urged Harold to sign himself Hart Crane in honor of her side of the family. By contrast, Crane's choice of poetry over business as his lifework angered -- and baffled -- C. A. Over time, however, his mother's identification with him became more burdensome to Crane than his father's opposition. While he made peace with the candy man, he spent the last three years of his life in flight from Grace.

Mariani has relatively little interest in these powerful, unpleasant parents. For him, what matters is New York, the city Crane discovered at 17 and repeatedly returned to. New York was many things to Crane: modernist literature and art, skyscrapers, advertising (in which he sometimes worked as a copywriter), a center for people from everywhere else and the scene of a new sexual freedom, in which Crane would learn what it meant for him to be gay. In contrast to Crane's previous biographers, Mariani, who has also written biographies of Robert Lowell and William Carlos Williams, discusses the poet's sexuality without embarrassment or disapproval, and he recognizes how crucial it was to his poetry and to his transforming experience of New York. ''He made one man after another,'' Mariani writes, just as ''he made the city . . . made it over into his own image, as every New York artist -- driven by eros and invention -- must make it over.''

What Crane made of the city can be seen in ''White Buildings,'' a book of lyric poems that appeared in 1926, and ''The Bridge,'' the long poem he conceived in 1923 but did not complete and publish until 1930. The bridge in the title was Crane's symbol for the will to imagine a New World that he saw at the center of American history. He had felt the power of that symbol in his ecstatic contemplation of the Brooklyn Bridge. He lived ''in the shadow of the bridge'' at 110 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, and he crossed it by day and at night with friends and with lovers, hand in hand. In the opening, dedicatory section of ''The Bridge,'' with an elevated diction and ceremonial formality worthy of Renaissance poetry, Crane invoked the familiar Gothic arches and steel cables as a divine image for his time:

O Sleepless as the river under thee,

Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,

Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend

And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

This was the symbol Crane held out to his readers, daring them to assent.

He brought the same urgency to his friendships. ''Crane,'' Mariani writes, ''had one of those quicksilver personalities -- a survivor's instinct, really -- which allowed him to get along with almost anyone.'' Indeed, as singular as he was, attached to no institution of any kind (he never went to college, served in the military or worked his way up a company ladder), always fleeing from his family and almost always broke, Crane needed friends badly, and he was open to them from all quarters. Many artists and authors (some famous now, some not) have a role in ''The Broken Tower''; so do millionaires, movie stars, sailors, taxi drivers and divorcees. Crane gave himself to other people profligately -- his letters are a record, and an instance, of that generosity of spirit -- and he demanded as much in return (as his letters, with their frequent self-pity, defensiveness and requests for money, also record).

Crane's call to friendship was impossible for any of his friends to answer fully. His adult life was filled with failed relationships; and his estrangement from friends, who were in key cases also poetry critics, foretold the mixed reception of ''The Bridge.'' Although he anticipated bad reviews, he never recovered his belief in his talent. As he struggled to finish ''The Bridge,'' and then afterward, alcohol dominated Crane's daily life. At the same time, he became more and more isolated in the heterosexual -- in many ways homophobic -- society of his literary peers. This stage of things is easy to narrate. There are tantrums, orgies, arrests; Crane blows through Los Angeles, Paris, Mexico City; he dresses as ''a cannibal,'' a Scotsman, a Mexican peasant; he drops to his knees and dances his Cossack dance in the street. But it's hard to get inside his mind. At the end of the night, Crane is besotted, sad and alone.

Readers wanting new facts about this and other phases of Crane's life will be disappointed in ''The Broken Tower.'' Mariani seems to have written it not in the library but in his study, with Crane's books and the main books about him open on the desk, and without reference, it appears, to the extensive unpublished correspondence. The narrative depends on restatements of poems and published letters, including some of Crane's words (not always with quotation marks) and some of Mariani's. The effect can be exciting, but it can be stilted too, and then the ''Greek tragedy'' feels like a television dramatization. There is too much tough talk (as if Mariani thought he could communicate Crane's great transgressive vitality by swearing a lot); and there is something silly about prose paraphrases of Crane's sublime lyrics that try to put us in the poet's mind, as if we were listening in as he mulled over his love affairs, a little soused.

But there is also something right about Mariani's approach to the poems. They are passionate personal documents that invite us into a state of intimate reverie, in which we collaborate with the poet to complete his meaning. Mariani understands this -- it's the appeal of Crane's poems, in both senses -- and he tries to meet Crane on that level, to be the comrade or ''accomplice'' his poems seek. The results, for all their staginess, are helpful readings of famously difficult texts.

After the publication of his long poem, Crane, dispirited and too modest, no longer expecting to become the modern Pindar, wrote, ''I shall be humbly grateful if 'The Bridge' can fulfill the metaphoric inferences of its title'' and ''serve as . . . a link connecting certain chains of the past to certain chains and tendencies of the future.'' To understand the future, he turned back to an old image of it, that monumental structure from the 19th century, the Brooklyn Bridge. To understand the direction of our culture today, on the verge of a new century that is full of its own promise and threat, we might take Crane's lead and look for images of the future in the past, beginning with ''The Bridge.''


Langdon Hammer is the editor, with Brom Weber, of ''O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane.''



January 28, 2007

Hart Crane’s Bridge to Nowhere




Complete Poems and Selected Letters.

Edited by Langdon Hammer.

849 pp. The Library of America. $40.


Before Hart Crane’s leap into the Caribbean that fatal April noon in 1932, he folded his jacket over the ship’s rail with impeccable manners. Striking out into the glassy sea, he was seen no more, dying younger than Byron but older than Shelley. Not being a seagoing breed, poets rarely die by water — Shelley drowned in a sudden squall; but he had written 1,500 pages of poetry, while Crane left only two very short books and the shards of a third. The hope for a homegrown American epic that died with him has never entirely revived.

The precocious son of a wealthy Cleveland candy manufacturer (Crane’s father created the Life Saver mint but sold the rights cheap), Crane dropped out of high school and persuaded his parents to send him to New York, where he hoped to make his way as a writer. Wearing the scarlet A of ambition, at 17 he confidently predicted that he would “really without doubt be one of the foremost poets in America.” In fact, Crane was soon published in some of the best little magazines. He impressed his friends, not just with his bulb-eyed and brutish good looks (there’s always room in New York for a handsome boy with manners and a wild streak), but with his canny critical judgment. He was a fan of Pound before “The Cantos” and Joyce before “Ulysses,” and was terrified by Eliot before “The Waste Land.” As early as 1920 he was recommending, before either had published a book, Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore, whom he referred to as “Marion” (Crane’s deranged spelling offers one of the quiet comedies of the new Library of America edition of his work).

Most of Crane’s short life was spent scuffling for money. His tightfisted father kept him on an allowance at first, but expected Crane to get a job. The poet tried various fits and shifts, finding employment most frequently in advertising (writing copy for, among other things, a new synthetic leather called Naugahyde), though at times he was forced back to Ohio, where he spent an unhappy Christmas selling candy from an Akron drugstore counter. No doubt his father saw this as his son’s first step toward inheriting the family business, but the experiment was not a success.

Crane’s early poems showed more style than talent, and from the start he was attracted to an obscurity that left some readers cold:

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

It helps only a little to know that this dreadful mess was called “Chaplinesque.” One of Crane’s friends later knocked on his door with Charlie Chaplin in tow, and the three went out on the town until dawn. Having learned this, a hundred American poets will begin odes to Angelina Jolie.

Crane was mystified, as most obscure poets are, when readers found his poems difficult — after all, they were perfectly clear to him. His obscurity was not that of Eliot or Pound, not a layered and allusive language whose intrigues deepened the more one examined it. Crane’s language, when not a matter of tangled metaphors (he mixed them almost more often than he mixed drinks), was a schoolboy code for which an English-Fustian, Fustian-English dictionary would have proved helpful. He came by his obscurity honestly — he didn’t read Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose style might have influenced him, until far too late. When you clear away the clutter from his verse, often you find only banalities — Crane flinched from Eliot’s dour observations and pince-nez disillusion, wanting to embody a rhapsodic vision of poetry it was difficult not to glaze with sentiment.

Crane tried on various identities as a young man and failed at most of them. He was frank about his homosexuality only with close friends — his sexual appetites were voracious and involved far too many sailors. (The definitive work on the United States Navy’s contributions to cruising has yet to be written.) Crane dreamed of being a poet much more often than he sat at his desk and wrote poems; and he was forever complaining in letters that he had no time to write, though he found plenty of time to drink. He conceived his major poem, “The Bridge,” as early as 1923 but made only desultory progress toward it. (Remaining drunk all through Prohibition proved surprisingly easy.) It was hard work, avoiding real work; but Crane became an expert at writing cadging letters to his divorced parents and playing one against the other.

Forever broke, dramatically threatening to slave away on the docks or drive a truck, Crane took to writing begging letters to millionaires, or at least one millionaire, and got lucky. The financier Otto Kahn, the major shareholder in the Metropolitan Opera, offered to loan him $2,000 to write “The Bridge” (Kahn also backed Gershwin and Eisenstein). The poet was soon ensconced in a shabby house in upstate New York, spending his benefactor’s initial installment as if it would last forever (on snowshoes, as well as wood carvings from the Congo, among other things) and asking for advances on the remainder. Kahn hardly lacked the wherewithal — his fireproof castle on Long Island grew to 100,000 square feet, and his 80-room Fifth Avenue mansion was stuffed with old masters.

Crane usually bit the hand that fed him, but you have to like a poet whose revelation of his own genius occurred in a dentist’s chair (“An objective voice kept saying to me — ‘You have the higher consciousness. ... This is what is called genius’ ”). He told his father that critics believed his first book, “White Buildings” (1926), would be the most important debut in American poetry since “Leaves of Grass.” These critics, who happened to be his friends, loyally judged him by the poems he had yet to write.

Chronically out of sorts, creatively ill (his life would have been far happier after the introduction of decongestants), prone to “enthusiasms” we might now call mania, argumentative, often spectacularly drunk, Crane would have gotten on anyone’s nerves. He had spent most of the millionaire’s thousands when he departed abruptly for his mother’s ramshackle plantation off Cuba (his family owned houses all over the place). There, after much grouching and complaint, he completed half of “The Bridge,” which he saw not as an epic but as a “long lyric poem, with interrelated sections.”

It would take Crane three more years to finish the poem, spending months in California as companion to a neurasthenic stockbroker, squandering an inheritance from his grandmother on a trip to Paris, his drunkenness meanwhile growing wilder and more uncontrollable. When “The Bridge” was finally published in 1930, Crane felt betrayed by the mixed reviews it received from Allen Tate and Yvor Winters, his old friends, who had begun to have second thoughts, not about Crane’s gifts, but about his ability to profit from them.

Much of “The Bridge” seems inert now —overlong, overbearing, overwrought, a Myth of America conceived by Tiffany and executed by Disney. Crane imagined the Brooklyn Bridge as a mystical symbol for art, for history, for America, for any old thing; in this spiritual version of Manifest Destiny, he threw his poem backward to Columbus and worked forward to the invention of the airplane. The canvas was broad, but its success would have required a language less Alexandrian than Crane possessed. At his best, he stayed just this side of wild-eyed prophesying, though his grandeurs might easily be mistaken for grandiosity:

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty —
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
— Till elevators drop us from our day.

This is a beautifully managed passage; but even Crane’s most thrilling lines can be cloying, always an adjective too rich or a noun too boisterous, the most beautiful stanzas naïve as history or infused with a crude faith in progress almost embarrassing now. He was drawn to a high-amp schmaltziness he must have taken as the proper emotional tone for a visionary.

Crane wanted to drag the language of Marlowe and Webster into the Jazz Age. Beneath his jewel-encrusted lines, however, the poem seems trivial, its ideas torn from the daily paper or the pages of a high-school history textbook:

While Cetus-like, O thou Dirigible, enormous Lounger
Of pendulous auroral beaches, — satellited wide
By convoy planes, moonferrets that rejoin thee
On fleeing balconies as thou dost glide,
— Hast splintered space!

We have no long poems this close to being great that are greater failures. (Why do American poets so often lose their bearings, and their taste, when writing about America?) The poem’s creaky swiveling through time, its brassy versifying and its phony demotic seem dated now, not because Crane was heavily indebted to “The Waste Land” (despite frequently disparaging Eliot), but because he learned so little from it. Reading “The Bridge” is like being stuck in a mawkish medley from “Show Boat” and “Oklahoma” — you’d buy the Brooklyn Bridge to make it stop. Critics since have tried to make a case for the poem, for the coherence of its incoherent parts (criticism, like poetry, is often wishful thinking); but “The Bridge” remains a fabulous architectural blueprint that wanted a discipline Crane could never provide.

The poet’s last year was spent on a Guggenheim fellowship in Mexico (we are lucky he left nothing of his projected epic on the Aztecs). He behaved so badly that his friend Katherine Anne Porter ratted him out to the foundation, which almost terminated the fellowship. In his final months, exhausted and miserable, he began an affair with Malcolm Cowley’s estranged wife, an older woman Crane called “Twidget,” and wrote a homosexual friend that he had “broken ranks” with the “brotherhood.” Perhaps the romance was merely a sign of his boredom and mental exhaustion — it did nothing to slow down his secret pickups and Jack Tar chasing.

The Library of America edition, edited by Langdon Hammer, contains more of Crane than most readers will ever need. The poems take up so little space, this well-edited volume has been pieced out with more than 500 pages of letters (Crane was an energetic correspondent though rarely one memorable or even bearable — great ones don’t usually whine so much). E. E. Cummings once remarked that Crane’s mind was “no bigger than a pin”; but Crane had a sharp critical temperament that appears to best advantage in his letters: “God DAMN this constant nostalgia for something always ‘new,’ ” he wrote, and “I detest a certain narcissism in the voluptuous melancholics of Eliot.” The edition’s scattershot notes are helpful, but the chronology of Crane’s life averts its gaze from his athletic philandering and the exact events leading to his suicide — he had been badly beaten during the night by a sailor he propositioned.

Crane still makes young men want to write poetry — his best lines are extraordinary, even if there are few major poems, or even very good ones. He failed to write the poetry of the American continent Emerson was calling for before the Civil War: if the ideal seems naïvely nationalistic now, the country was once younger and less cynical. Crane was no innovative genius like Whitman; he was perhaps closer to a peasant poet like John Clare, an outsider too susceptible to praise and other vices of the city. Defensive about his lack of education, a Midwestern striver out of a Sinclair Lewis novel, Crane tried to make it among the big-city literary men, gripping a rum in one hand and a copy of “The Waste Land” in the other. Had beauty been enough, he might even have succeeded.

William Logan is a poet and critic whose most recent books are “The Whispering Gallery” and “The Undiscovered Country.”



Brücke und Verheißung

Klassiker, unbedingt wiederzulesen: Fünf Jahre lang dichtete Hart Crane an "The Bridge" (1930)


Hart Crane: "Die Brücke. Ein Gedicht / The Bridge. A Poem". Deutsch von Ute Eisinger. Jung und Jung Verlag, Salzburg 2004, 167 Seiten, 22 Euro.

In Die Ausgewanderten beschreibt W. G. Sebald einen nach Brooklyn emigrierten Onkel: Der Onkel Kasimir, der einst in Augsburg das Dach der Synagoge deckte, setzt 1929 dem Chrysler-Building die Stahlblechspitze auf. Doch nach einem Arbeitsunfall findet er nicht mehr ins Leben zurück. Abends zieht es ihn hinaus auf die kleine Landzunge vor New Jersey. Was ihm Sebald dort in den Mund legt, ist das Menetekel der Entwurzelung: "I often come out here (…), it makes me feel that I am a long way away, though I never quite know from where."

Diese ungelöste Frage nach einer us-amerikanischen Identität im 20. Jahrhundert zu erhellen, schickte sich in jenen "Roaring Twenties" auch der junge Dichter Hart Crane an. 1899 in Ohio geboren, lebte Crane im selben Appartement am East River, von dem aus der Ingenieur der Brooklyn Bridge 50 Jahre zuvor den Bau dieser einst größten Hängebrücke der Welt über den Seitenarm des Hudson beaufsichtigt hatte. Fünf Jahre lang schrieb Crane an seinem 60-Seiten-Gedicht The Bridge.

"Ich habe versucht", notiert er, "das gleiche Gefühl von Erhebung (…) spürbar werden zu lassen (…), wie man es hat, wenn man über meine geliebte Brooklyn Bridge geht." Für Crane war die Brücke des John Augustus Roebling, der eigentlich Johann August hieß und aus Thüringen stammte, ein "Symbol bewussten Zeit- und Raum-Überspannens". Glücksvernichtender Entfremdung hielt er die Poetik vom "Fortschreiten nach rückwärts" entgegen: The Bridge strebt durch Raum und Zeit, und die Übersetzung Ute Eisingers lädt nun auch den deutschsprachigen Leser ein, darüber zu gehen.

In neun Abschnitten spannt sich der Bogen aus der Zukunft zurück nach Atlantis. Symphonisch verwoben, bilden die Gedichte drei Entwicklungen ab: die Geschichte des Kontinents, seiner Natur, Ureinwohner, Eroberung und Formung zur modernen Zivilisation begleiten Figuren aus Amerikas Mythengeschichte: Kolumbus, Pocahontas, Rip van Winkle. Herman Melville, der die Einweihung der Brooklyn Bridge als Zollbeamter erlebte, wandert ebenso durch den Text wie Poe und Isadora Duncan. Sie alle überqueren Die Brücke und verleihen ihr Lebendigkeit. Kontrastiert werden vorüberziehende Zeiten und Leben von der Geschichte der technischen Gefährte, die Weg nach Westen und Aufstieg zur Weltmacht Reichweite und Tempo vorgaben. Einzigartig das Zusammenwirken abstrakter Sujets mit sinnlich wahrnehmbaren Details von Pionierschiffen oder Siedlertrecks. In furioser lyrischer Animation verwandelt Crane die Planwagen in Dampfeisenbahnen, Güterzüge, Metrolinien. Immer schneller, effektiver und doch bald hoffnungslos unrentabel sind die Schiffe: Walfänger werden zu Tee-Klippern, "Zeitschneidern".

Eines der kräftigsten Gedichte heißt nach dem berühmtesten dieser Segler und nach dem Lieblingswhiskey Hart Cranes "Cutty Sark". In einer Spelunke tun sich Matrosen groß, Schiffsnamen durchgeistern den Qualm wie Götternamen antike Oden, und dazu spielt ein Münzpiano: "Rose von Stambul, o Korallenkönigin!"

Die Seele, benzinbeflügelt

"Luftregatta von Schnellsegler-Phantomen": Sie erheben sich tatsächlich in die Lüfte, als Luftschiffe, die das nahe Lakehurst ansteuern. "Cutty Sark" wird auf dem Weg über die phonetische Brücke zu "Kitty Hawk", dem Ort der ersten Motorflüge der Gebrüder Wright. In "Kap Hatteras", einer Whitman-Hommage, sieht Crane visionär Luft- und Raumfahrt gekoppelt an ihre militärische Nutzung: "Die Seele, benzinbeflügelt in ganz neue Bereiche, / weiß schon des Mars Erringung nicht mehr im Fernen, -/ und neue Weiten zu entknoten, greift bald, was Hass / vorsieht, um sich (…)" Auch die Herzstelle des Textes bedient sich der Flieger-Metaphorik, um Kritik an hypertropher Rationalität zu üben: "(…) Wir kennen die schneidende Regel / herrischer Flügel … Raum, unverzüglich, / flackert kurz auf, verbraucht uns in seinem Lächeln (…)". "Dream cancels dream in this new realm of fact / From which we wake into the dream of act", fährt das Original, gereimt, fort.

Michael Hamburger weist darauf hin, dass Crane trotz allen Wissens um amerikanische Geschichte und der Absicht, T. S. Eliots Waste Land einen positiven Mythos entgegenzusetzen, doch von Entfremdung schrieb. Crane brachte ein dem Wesen nach romantisches Empfinden mit zu einem Unternehmen, an das William Carlos Williams realistischer heranging, unbelastet von Sehnsucht nach einer Erhabenheit, die mit dem amerikanischen Englisch schwer in Einklang zu bringen ist. Und dennoch: die Vielstimmigkeit von The Bridge, ihr Figurenreichtum ebenso wie ihre filmischen Montageverfahren zeugen vom Versuch, der Moderne den Spiegel einer zeitlosen, dabei so dynamischen Dichtung vorzuhalten, wie sie ein Whitman oder Melville hinterlassen haben. "Jede Zeile dieses Gedichts - mögen die Rhythmen noch so oft wechseln, vom gleichmäßigen Wellenschlag bis zu Jazzfetzen - (…) ist Exzess", schreibt Klaus Reichert im Nachwort der zweisprachigen Ausgabe, ein Exzess, dem man sich unbedingt aussetzen sollte.

Ute Eisingers Anmerkungen vermitteln einen Eindruck von der Liebe der Übersetzerin und machen Lust auf genaueres Wiederlesen. Manchmal wünscht man sich eine autonomere Übertragung, mit einem weniger am Craneschen Detail denn am eigenen dichterischen Zugang orientierten Profil.

Doch Eisingers "Brücke" ist nicht nur wichtiger Impuls zur dringend anstehenden Wiederaufnahme kritischer Auseinandersetzung mit den Klassikern der US-Literatur, sie ist immer dort ein Genuss, wo das Original einmal innehält und tatsächlich zeitlos wird: "(…) Weißt du noch, weißt noch / den Aschenhaufen hinten im Hof, / wo wir die ganze Brut junger Ringelnattern / drunter erschlagen haben … Und die Flieger, / die wir steigen ließen - aus Papier und eingedrehten / Gummiringen (…)".

Hart Crane war sich des einen wesentlichen Mankos seines Entwurfes vom "Fortschreiten nach rückwärts" lange vor Fertigstellung von The Bridge bewusst. Schon 1926 schrieb er: "Das ,Geschick' ist längst vollendet (…). Die Brücke als Symbol hat heute keine Bedeutung, die über einen zeitsparenden Zugang zu kürzeren Arbeitszeiten, schnelleren Mittagessen, Behaviourismus und Zahnstocher hinausginge". 1930, als The Bridge erschien, lebte Crane in Paris, bevor ihn ein Guggenheim-Stipendium nach Mexiko rief. Das angekündigte neue Epos hat er nicht begonnen. 1932, auf der Rückreise nach New York, sprang Hart Crane von Bord der S. S. Orizaba in die Karibik. "It makes me feel that I am a long way away, though I never quite know from where."

taz Magazin Nr. 7399 vom 3.7.2004, Seite VI, 148 Kommentar NICOLAI KOBUS, Rezension

Raum und Wissen erobert

Mindestens alles: Hart Cranes riesiges Poem "The Bridge", fein übersetzt von Ute Eisinger


Hart Crane: "The Bridge / Die Brücke. A Poem / Ein Gedicht". Aus dem amerikanischen Englisch und mit Anmerkungen von Ute Eisinger. Jung und Jung, Salzburg 2004, 168 Seiten, 22 Euro

"London Bridge is falling down …" - als T. S. Eliot 1922 diese Zeile aus einem englischen Kinderlied in sein Langgedicht "The Waste Land" montierte, war das gewissermaßen ein sarkastischer Triller über der Schlussnote eines dunklen Abgesangs auf das "alte Europa". In New York lebte zu dieser Zeit ein junger amerikanischer Dichter und schaute aus seinem Fenster auf die Brooklyn Bridge.

Hart Crane, 1899 in Ohio geboren, bewunderte Eliot als Dichtersolitär, dessen Pessimismus aber, dieses so endgültig tote Szenario des Waste Land, war ihm unerträglich. Crane hatte eine andere Brücke vor Augen, eine über Raum und Zeit gespannte, eine Mythen bildende, zu neuen Ufern führende. "The Bridge", 1930 erschienen, ist ein hybrides Gebilde: ein aus fünfzehn Einzeltexten, meist selbst schon Langgedichten komponiertes, riesiges Poem, das nichts weniger will als alles. Die Bögen der Brücke spannen sich von der Frühgeschichte Amerikas mit Columbus und Pocahontas über die Zeit der Walfänger und Eisenbahnpioniere bis ins Manhattan der Zwanzigerjahre. Crane ging es um die "Eroberung von Raum und Wissen", doch sein Gedicht ist keine epische Chronologie. Eine Brücke wird von beiden Seiten zugleich gebaut, und ihre Statik verlangt die gleichzeitige Gegenwart der Kräfte aller ihrer Elemente. So hält dieses Gedicht in der Vergangenheit immer auch die Zukunft präsent, wie auch die Gegenwart ohne Geschichte nicht zu denken ist: "So to thine Everpresence, beyond time,/ … ( One Song, one Bridge of Fire!"

Crane beschwört die alten Mythen von Atlantis, Cathay und Ultima Thule, um sie in seinen "Mythos Amerika" zu überführen - weniger ein reales Land als eine schöpferische Utopie im Sinne Whitmans. Dass diese Utopie aber keiner unkritischen Affirmation entspringt, dafür bürgen Melville, Poe und Dickinson als literarische Ahnen sowie Cranes Blick auf die Welt, die ihn umgab. Er wusste, wo er lebte, bevor er sich 1929 wie viele seiner Zeitgenossen nach Paris absetzte: "Gelobtes Land war das und ist es gewiss/ für den beredten Grundstücksmakler noch stets,/ wo in verbotenen Bars neben der Straße Gin Fizz/ im Takt von Hollywood-Reigen Bläschen schlägt."

Im angloamerikanischen Sprachraum ist Crane schon seit seinem ersten Gedichtband ("White Buildings", 1926) eine feste Größe. Hierzulande muss er noch entdeckt werden, zwingend, dringend. Die nun vorliegende erste Übertragung der "Brücke" durch Ute Eisinger ist nicht nur eine gute Gelegenheit, sondern ein Glücksfall. Das Stimmengewirr und die Formenvielfalt des Originals ans deutsche Ufer zu übersetzen braucht vermutlich eine ähnliche Mischung aus Akribie und Unerschrockenheit, wie sie für den Urtext selbst vonnöten war. Schon rein formal gäbe es genug Gründe, "The Bridge" als unübersetzbar den Archiven zu überlassen: Metrisch streng geordnete Strophen mit Endreim stehen neben Blankversen und freien, rhapsodischen Langzeilen. Die Tonlagen wechseln zwischen exaltiertem Pathos, ziselierten Manierismen und rotzigem Slang. Eisinger gelingt das Akrobatische, einerseits eng an der Vorlage zu bleiben, andererseits sich so viel poetische Freiheit zu nehmen, dass der verwirrende Anspielungsreichtum, die vertrackte Konstruktion, die Lebendigkeit des Originals weitgehend erhalten bleiben: "Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes/ As apparitional as sails that cross/ Some page of figures to be filed away;/ ( Till elevators drop us from our day."

Vier Zeilen aus dem Arbeitsalltag eines Finanzangestellten, zugleich ein schweifender Blick über die Brooklyn Bridge. Im Deutschen heißt es: "Sodann, bei ungebrochner Kurve, unser Auge fliehen,/ so schemenhaft wie Segel ziehen/ über eine Seite Kolonnen, dies ablegen heißt;/ ( bis uns vom Arbeitstag ein Aufzug auslässt …" Reim und Rhythmus gerettet, Bild und Bewegung behalten. Dass sich nicht alles retten lässt, zeigt Eisingers kluger und hilfreicher Kommentar. "Eye" ist lautlich im Englischen auch das Ich, "sails" sind auch die "sales", Verkäufe, und "figures" Zahlen wie Figuren, Menschen.

"Die Brücke" durchmisst einen Tageslauf von Sonnenauf bis -untergang und umfasst zugleich ein Menschenleben. Sie beginnt mit dem Aufbruch, dem In-See-Stechen des Columbus, und endet mit der kreischenden Fahrt eines Zuges in den Tunnel der Nacht: "Der Wagen/ rollt fort. Der Zug umkurvt, biegt sich zum Schrei,/ nimmt eine letzte Stufe für den Tauchgang/ untern Fluß (/ und irgendwie leerer als zuvor,/ verrückt, einen Augenblick stößt auf mit Rumpeln; dann/ loslässt … In die Ecken auf dem Boden/ heben Zeitungsfetzen ab, kreisen, segeln./ Blanke Fenster gurgeln Signale durchs Gebrüll."

Für Crane war diese Bewegung eine unendliche, der nächste Morgen ein Auftauchen aus der Unterwelt, ein neuer Aufbruch nach Atlantis gewiss. Darin bestand sein großer Gegenentwurf zum "Waste Land". T. S. Eliot flüchtete aus seinen europäischen Ruinen in die anglikanische Kirche. Crane sprang ins Wasser, nicht von der Brooklyn Bridge, sondern 1932 während einer Schiffspassage von Mexiko nach New York, nicht zum Baden, sondern endgültig. Man muss das aushalten. 


N Z Z   Online


Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 4. September 2004, Ressort Feuilleton

Hymnus an die Brooklyn Bridge

Hart Crane: Die Brücke. Ein Gedicht. Aus dem amerikanischen Englisch und kommentiert von Ute Eisinger. Mit einem Nachwort von Klaus Reichert. Jung und Jung, Salzburg 2004. 167 S., Fr. 37.50.

mtt. Hart Cranes Langgedicht «The Bridge» gehöre zu den ungelesenen Monolithen der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, schreibt Klaus Reichert in seinem Nachwort zu der zweisprachigen Ausgabe dieses «long poem», durch welche das Werk erstmals in einer deutschsprachigen Fassung zugänglich gemacht wird. Der 1899 geborene Fabrikantensohn Hart Crane aus Cleveland, Homosexueller und Teil der Künstlergemeinde im Greenwich Village, feiert 1930, zwei Jahre vor seinem Selbstmord, in diesem acht Teile umfassenden Gedicht die Brooklyn Bridge als überlebensgrosse Vision der Vitalität der USA. Mythen, historische Ereignisse, technische Grosstaten und die Einflüsse literarischer Vorbilder - vor allem Walt Whitman und Edgar Allan Poe - verschmelzen in einem Gewebe von Metaphern, das bis heute als überaus hermetisch gilt. Durch diese Bildlichkeit und durch die wechselnden Rhythmen, durch die mal gebundenen und mal freien Verse, habe er nicht die Erfahrungswirklichkeit, sondern Bewusstseinszustände einfangen wollen, hat Crane dazu selbst erläutert. Das stellt jeden Versuch einer Übersetzung vor schwere Bewährungsproben. Ute Eisinger hat es gewagt - und der Versuch ist aller Ehren wert -, aber sie verhebt sich leider immer wieder bei ihrem Pionierunternehmen, vor allem dann, wenn sie bei streng beachteten Versmassen und Satzgefügen allzu sehr auf Wortneuschöpfungen oder im Deutschen ungebräuchliche Wortstellungen setzen muss, um den Geist des Originals zu bewahren. Emphase und Pathos von «The Bridge», das als Gegenentwurf zu T. S. Eliots kulturpessimistischem «The Waste Land» verstanden werden sollte, ersticken dann gelegentlich in kryptischen und rätselhaften Formulierungen - und man wird dankbar dafür sein, das Original fallweise um Rat fragen zu können.