For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen Summary

Hart Crane


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

It would be appropriate to begin the analysis of “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen” with its title. The reader will search in vain for any mention of a marriage or of Faustus in the three-part piece; however, a study of the title leads directly into an understanding of Crane’s ideas about historical correspondence. He wrote that in this poem he was trying to find “a contemporary approximation to an ancient human culture.” In the case of Helen, considered the most beautiful woman in the classical world, Crane sought to reconstruct in “modern terms . . . the basic emotional attitude toward beauty that the Greeks had.” Thus, in the poem’s first part, the narrator sees Helen in modern garb stuck in rush-hour traffic.

This attitude toward the past offers a strong rebuff to the outlook of Crane’s pessimistic contemporaries. An example of this more prevalent, darker attitude is to be found in Ezra Pound’s Cantos (1917-1970). In this work, the poet, disavowing the present, imaginatively envisions previous times in history, in Renaissance Italy or feudal China, for example, when one could combine writing verse with living a socially and politically active life. Crane refuses to follow Pound in entering the past as a refuge but insists that every possibility for heroic life that could be found in other periods is still to be found.

As if to prove this assertion, his poem finds modern equivalents for specific events in the life of the mythological Helen of Troy, mentioned in the poem’s title. In the original myth, Helen had been kidnapped from her Greek husband, Menelaus, by Paris, son of the king of Troy,...

(The entire section is 678 words.)