Born this day in the final year of the 19th Century Harold Hart Crane did not reach the age of Christ and departed this world aged only 32. Never an easy poet and he never had an easy life. He struggled with twin demons of drink and sexuality. His search for an uplifting counterpoint to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” resulted in poor critical reviews and a slide into depression.
On a steamship from Mexico to New York he made advances to a male member of the crew and was badly beaten. He leaped into the Gulf of Mexico and his body was never recovered. At Melville’s tomb did he foresee his own end?
At Melville’s Tomb; by Harold Hart Crane
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
the dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
an embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
the calyx of death’s bounty giving back
a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
the portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
and silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
to farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.