“Chaplinesque” is in many ways Crane’s most personal poem, in which he presents a cogent statement of the plight of the poet in modern society. As such, it is one of his major works, for here he combines his fascination with the craft of poetry with distinctive American aspects, with popular culture, and with his own life. Crane’s use of intensely personal elements places him in the tradition established by Walt Whitman, whose best-known poem was entitled “Song of Myself.” Indeed, Crane was the “most American” poet since Whitman, and he wrote in much the same vein, using American images—the Brooklyn Bridge, the elevated train, motion pictures—although in a quite original way.
Crane admired the contemporary American poet who influenced him most, T. S. Eliot, but he rejected Eliot’s belief that poetry should be a vehicle not for displaying personal emotions but for freeing oneself from them. The ash can that is transformed into a “grail of laughter” in the final stanza of “Chaplinesque” is an allusion to Eliot’s most famous work, “The Waste Land” (1922), in which the search for the Holy Grail figures as a major symbol. However, Eliot’s philosophy of impersonality ran contrary to Crane’s belief that the American poet should employ his own personal vision of the American experience to create a new kind of art, and that emotion was of the essence.
There are decidedly individual references in...
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