Vachel Lindsay~
Hart Crane~
ABRAHAM LINCOLN WALKS AT MIDNIGHT
by Vachel Lindsay
(1879-1931)

It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down,

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high-top hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:--as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long,
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks of men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why;
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnoughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-draped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;--the shining hope of Europe free:
A league of sober folk, the worker's earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?
 
 
 

      President Abraham Lincoln 
 

 



When the Poetry Dies in
Self-Annihilation

               A moving biography reflects on Hart Crane's wildly
               original writing and the sad melodrama of his life 

               Sunday, July 25, 1999
 

               By FLOYD SKLOOT, Special writer, The Oregonian 

               The willows carried a slow sound, 
               A sarabande the wind mowed on the mead. 
               I could never remember 
               That seething, steady leveling of the marshes 
               Till age had brought me to the sea. 

               FIRST STANZA, "REPOSE OF RIVERS," 
               BY HART CRANE 

               Sometimes a poet's sensational life overshadows the
               literary achievement. Sylvia Plath is remembered more
               often for her ferocious drive, dramatic marriage and
               suicide than for her brilliant late poetry; Anne Sexton is
               recalled for her glamorous affairs, bad parenting and
               lifelong flirtation with suicide rather than for her daring
               imagery and formal excellence. The poems, if read at all,
               are examined primarily to illuminate the lives. 

               Hart Crane's melodramatic life and the labyrinthine
               difficulty of his work conspire to encourage just such an
               approach. Born exactly 100 years ago, Crane was the
               great "roaring boy" of modern American poetry, a
               homosexual when the lifestyle was taboo, who hoped to
               write and live "beyond words entirely," seeking to force
               new meanings into the English language and to cross new
               thresholds of experience. Some thought he was a genius,
               others a fake. 

               He published only two books in a brief, decade-long
               career. But Crane's poetry had a wildness and originality
               that demanded attention. According to Mariani, he wrote
               "two octaves above the higher end of the scale" than
               anybody else and lived that way, too. In his moving and
               sad biography, "The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart
               Crane," Paul Mariani carefully balances an assessment of
               the life and art. As in his previous biographies of Robert
               Lowell, John Berryman and William Carlos Williams,
               Mariani -- an accomplished poet himself, and a professor
               at the University of Massachusetts -- focuses on what
               made Crane a great writer, not just a fascinating
               character. 

               Life and art clearly merged in Crane's use of alcohol. He
               liked to write under its influence, claiming that it released
               him to be a "visionary." It certainly jazzed up his language.
               The poem "The Wine Menagerie," whose origins Mariani
               traces "to the drunken Fourth of July celebrations (and) to
               his drunken week in New York," is not only a hymn to the
               value Crane found in booze but also a virtual statement of
               his artistic method: 

               Invariably when wine redeems the sight, 

               Narrowing the mustard scansions of the eyes, 

               A leopard ranging always in the brow 

               Asserts a vision in the slumbering gaze. Whether drunk
               and picking up sailors at the docks, drunk and combating
               the great literary minds of the 1920s in face-to-face
               argument or drunk and writing lushly obscure lyrics, Crane
               saw himself as "the last Romantic." Staring at the world
               through a gaze that people found difficult to meet, Crane
               stomped through the flapper era and was astonished when
               others turned away from him. 

               On the surface, his is a familiar American story: The gifted
               but tormented young man from a broken Midwest home
               takes New York by storm and becomes a star at 25. He
               then attempts to write the great American epic while
               struggling to earn a living in the cruel city, loses himself in
               alcoholic and predatory sexual excesses, finds his talent
               gone and commits suicide at the age of 32. 

               Born Harold Hart Crane, he was the only child of his
               mismatched parents' brief, miserable marriage. His father
               was a millionaire Ohio candy-maker who kept trying to
               make his son join the family business, even after the boy
               failed in every attempt to work there, even after he had
               become a poetic eminence. 

               Crane's mother, unstable and histrionic, kept her son in
               thrall, manipulating his emotions until their final break a
               few years before Crane's suicide. She lived most of her
               post-marital life in the company of an aging mother, trying
               to get her son to live with them as well, luring him home
               with claims of illness, then habitually shattering his faith in
               himself. She was, Crane said, an "insatiable demon of
               morbidity." He never ceased struggling to free himself
               from her. 

               Despite the elder Crane's wealth, son and mother
               remained in near-poverty after the divorce. One of the
               darkest themes in this biography is the poet's ongoing
               attempts to feed, clothe and house himself, begging his
               father for money, borrowing from his mother or his
               friends, taking jobs he loathed. Humiliation hounded him. 

               There has not been an American poet quite like Hart
               Crane. He never taught at a university. He never read his
               poems to a public audience and published few reviews or
               critical pieces. He never finished high school, barely
               earned enough money as a sometime advertising
               copywriter to survive, could not settle down in one place
               or with one lover. Restlessness and fury characterized his
               approach to everything. The figures he most brings to
               mind, at least superficially, are Dylan Thomas and the
               fabled Lord Byron. 

               By the age of 28, the biography says, "his face already
               had the swollen, blotched appearance of the alcoholic,
               and his prematurely gray hair was beginning to turn white.
               In truth, Crane was no longer in control of his own life." 

               Four years later, after a horrible year of failure to write or
               love while on fellowship in Mexico, Crane climbed over
               the rail of the ship bringing him home to New York and
               disappeared. As he had hoped, but no longer believed,
               Hart Crane's slim body of work has endured -- almost
               despite the melodrama of his life.
 
 

 

 

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