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The Poems


Harold Hart Crane (1899-1932) published only two volumes of poetry before his suicide by drowning in 1932. The second of these is the long and ambitious epic, regarded as something of a glorious failure, The Bridge (1930) (Gregory 475). In the poem, Crane employs the Brooklyn Bridge as the symbolic (and open to widely variable interpretation) expression of this emergent technological achievement and as a connection between that experience and the mythic American narratives, such as Pochahontas, Rip Van Winkle, and Christopher Columbus, that comprise some of the middle sections of the poem. This celebratory desire exists as a sort of unintentionally ironic counterpoint to the massive failure of modernity in the Great Depression.

Crane's work operates within the traditions of the Romantic mode. This tradition involves "a relocation in thought which occurs when an individual is able to express what is undeniably real to him without invoking any authority beyond his own experience. Such an individual puts himself at odds with all forms of confirmation when he embraces the perversity of truth instead of the complicity of agreement" (Combs 1). In Crane's work this Romanticism entails acceptance

of the awesome burden of examining his own experience, fully realizing that it would never be reconcilable with the value formulations of his culture. But he also undertook this task, aware that the ecstasy of transcending values must be short-lived and, finally, that it is not more "real" than the various emotions which policed the values of his culture. (Combs 36)
The poet becomes a kind of camera; personal experience functions as the record of a time. This does not become a totalizing expression of "how things are" but rather acts as an examination of "what I see". Thus, Crane internalizes the raw material of "America" and the bridge and produces the poem as his personal understanding of the totality of that material. The result does not capture the "essence" of this material, but is instead an impression of the poet's mediated reaction.


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