Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The image of the tower is the most outstanding signal of the poem’s central theme. True, one can argue that it is indeed a bell tower. The Tower of Babel comes to mind as well; but when a poet talks about a tower, he invites his reader to think of the fabled ivory tower wherein he finds his necessary isolation and elevated point of view from which to contemplate and comment on the human condition.

Yet this is a “broken” tower. One cannot avoid the further implication that this poet believes that he has somehow lost his vision, perhaps even his talent. It is known, for example, that Crane did spend much of his Guggenheim grant in Mexico involved in alcoholic binges and other debaucheries, and he was much depressed by the relatively poor reception that his major poem, The Bridge (1930), had received.

The speaker/poet first carries on an argument with his readers. Life is hell, he tells them, and all humans are imperfect, limited creations. It is impossible to bring back from the edges of hope and despair words and images that will ring true. Then he finds the courage to admit that he nevertheless has tried to serve a cause larger than self, the cause of human love and enlightenment.

Finally, as if it were himself that he was arguing with and trying to assuage, he remembers that life after all is for the living, as is love. Where he had felt defeated, he now sees that transcendence unmindful of the human element is an empty triumph. Thus it is in another’s embrace that he finds the proper expression of all the joy and all the meaning he has been seeking. The poem ends on the powerfully liberating insight that one has within oneself a creative force quite capable, if need be, of creating love where there had been nothing before.