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THE BROKEN TOWER by Paul Mariani


A Life of Hart Crane

by Paul Mariani

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04726-1
Publisher: Norton

A superbly wrought, movingly told biography of the great American poäte maudit, author of the epic The Bridge. While much of the Modernist mainstream, from Eliot’s The Wasteland to Joyce’s Ulysses, was suffused by a dark Spenglerian vision of civilization’s future, Hart Crane, almost alone, was sustained by more optimistic, transcendent possibilities. Sometimes called the “last Romantic,” not least for the characteristic high poetic, even Elizabethan tenor of his verse, Crane believed that his “visionary . . . possibilities might, just might, reverse that [America’s] downward spiral and in the process revitalize the entire country.” Well-versed biographer and poet Mariani (Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell, 1994, etc.) has a keen, sympathetic understanding of Crane’s tormented character and the predicament of poets in a prosaic age. He also does a remarkable job of explicating Crane’s notoriously difficult work and teasing out the substantial autobiographical underpinnings. However, Mariani occasionally lets his prose get carried a little too high on the viewless wings of poesy: for example, “Summer swept down over the city like a succubus.” Carefully drawing on a variety of recently-come-to-light resources, he traces Crane’s tragic trajectory, from golden boy to working drudge, stealing a few tired hours to write or carouse with his beloved sailors, to his increasing bouts with alcohol, his frequent poverty and instability, and his suicide at the age of 32. It is a compelling story, and Mariani tells it with the kind of insight and psychological acuity worthy of a great Russian novelist.