Harold Hart Crane 1899-1932

Harold Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, the son of a successful confectioner. The family moved to Warren, Ohio when he was five and four years later he went to live with his maternal grandmother in Cleveland when his parents split up and his mother went into a sanitarium. He was educated at East High School in Cleveland, leaving in 1916 at the age of seventeen to go to New York, the year in which his parents divorced. He worked as a copywriter whilst staying in friends’ apartments. He had some of his poems published in literary magazines in the early 1920’s, shuffling back and forth between New York and Cleveland for several years and working for his father as a confectionery salesman in Cleveland.

He published his first volume of poetry, White Buildings, in 1926 which contained some of his best poems, including For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen, My Grandmother’s Love Letters and Voyages, a sequence of erotic poems. In 1928 he moved back to New York, living in Brooklyn Heights in the home of the father of his lover, Emil Opffer, a Danish seaman. It was here that he wrote the poem The Bridge after receiving $2,000 from a wealthy New York philanthropist. In 1929 he received an inheritance of $5,000 from his grandparents, which caused a terminal rift with his mother who tried to block it because of his homosexuality. The following year he moved to Paris where his drinking problem increased and his behaviour deteriorated. On one occasion he was arrested and jailed for several days for fighting the police who had been called after an argument over the bill in a cafe.

After moving back to New York in 1931 he travelled to Mexico on a Guggenheim Fellowship. It was here that he wrote The Broken Tower which emerged from an affair with the wife of a friend, his only known heterosexual escapade. On his journey back to the United States, he was beaten up by some sailors for propositioning a crew member and jumped overboard in the Gulf of Mexico. His body was never found.

Some of Howard Hart Crane’s poetry, for example his only long poem, The Bridge, is difficult to fathom because like TS Eliot’s and Alexander Pope’s poetry it has a mystical, metaphoric quality. However, in spite of his chaotic life, his poetry is attentive, wise and radically original. In its lyricism and imagery some say it resembles the poetry of the French Romantic poets Rimbaud and Baudelaire.

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