HART CRANE, whose published and unpublished poems are here gathered together for the first time, belonged to that second generation of modern poets whose work has been so largely influenced by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. He brought to the study of the French symbolists and the later Elizabethans an original insight of his own, however, and his work is in a sense and extension of his. Immediate predecessors, original in technique, deeply American in content.
Somewhere in his essay on T.S. Eliot, in 'Axel's Castle." Edmund Wilson indicates that much of Mr. Eliot's technique, and also his preoccupation with the problem of poetic drama, can be explained by the fact that Mr. Eliot himself is essentially a dramatic poet a dramatist forced by the lack of a suitable medium and by the complexity of his themes, to telescope dialogue and action into a quasi-narrative form. This observation goes for to explain, in Crane's case, the obscurity of his long poem, "The Bridge," and most of his lyrics, though it is not the whole truth. To an extraordinary degree, apart from legitimate compression of phrase, Hart Crane developed a personal idiom, and a habit of mixed metaphor, which frequently makes it impossible to translate his meaning into English. And occasionally he was betrayed into an inflated rhetoric, a jungle of language into which it is profitless to venture.
These, however, are defects which one must suppose the poet deliberately risked for the sake of his valid achievements. A part of Hart Crane's ambition, as his essay on "Modern Poetry," (included in this volume) indicates, was to assimilate the urban and mechanical aspects of contemporary life while resuming Whitman's celebration of the American nation. To this task he brought an exceptionally large and varied poetic vocabulary, and it fecundity in metaphor with appears unique in contemporary poetry. Poems like "Lachrymae Christi," "Belle Isle, " and-the lyrical portions of "The Bridge," have surface brightness of texture alien to most modern poetry. It is possible that Crane, as almost any poet is tempted to do today, wrote with too much consciousness of a theory, but he produced a group of lyrics which have been ranked with the greatest in our literature.
Quite possibly the external difficulties of Crane's poetry, like Hopkins' will prevent its ever being widely enjoyed. At any rate, one cannot feel that Waldo Franks' attempt to dispel them in his introductory essay is very fortunates. Mr. Frank, otherwise an excellent editor, displays again his happy knack of giving large expression to little ideas and confuses the problems of Crane's poetry with a serious air of clarification. He does, however, suggest the greatness of Hart Crane's achievement in view of the material he was forced to use, and the authentic idiom which he finally created--an idiom to be remembered, if only by a few, for a long time to come.