VOYAGER: A Life of Hart Crane by John Unterecker
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VOYAGER: A Life of Hart Crane

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When he was drunk, Katherine Anne Porter recalls, ""he would weep and shout, shaking his fist, I am Baudelaire, I am Whitman, I am Christopher Marlowe, I am Christ' but never once did I hear him say he was Hart Crane."" He had, as he wrote, ""the zest for doom,"" yet surely his short, sprawling life left no one unmoved: death-oriented, he displayed a genius for involvement; homosexual, nevertheless it would be hard to find a poet more virile; visionary, seeking an ineffable identity, still he was drenched in all things earthy, manic, tactile, bright. ""Exile, wanderer, homeless in all latitudes,"" wrote his friend. Edward Dahlberg, ""strife was his god, and his oracle the sea."" After his leap off the Orizaba, en route from Mexico to New York, Crane became a legend, and the tremendous disorder of his thirty-two years, the sense of betrayal (actual or imagined) by his divorced parents (he had been, he told his mother, the ""bloody battleground for yours and father's sex life""), by friends and lovers, by himself most of all, the roaring days in Paris or Hollywood, the wasted days in the family's candy factory or at advertising agencies to make ends meet, the waterfront orgies, all were transformed, as happens in art, into one of the poet's most poignant prophecies, a ""constant harmony, /Relentless caper for all those who step/ The legend of their youth into the noon."" Although critical opinion is more or less divided over the exact stature of Crane's work, no one can be immune to the sorrowing, rollicking flamboyance of his life, especially the closing years in Mexico, the disruptive heterosexual affair with Peggy Cowley, the endless binges and scandals, the crazy wills and testaments. No doubt John Unterecker's encompassing biography, low-keyed, meticulous, fact-finding, the perfect counter-style, will be a landmark of literary scholarship, but never the final word. In love with immediacy and eternity, creating a myth for America in The Bridge, what Crane really left is his imperishable ardor which, the more we learn of it, glows like his ""trophies of the sun.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1969
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux