Hart Crane Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
ph_0111206273-Crane_H.jpg Hart Crane. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: As a visionary artist with an intense, challenging literary style, Crane was the creator of a unique poetic idiom that expressed a personal view of the cultural conditions that fascinated him during the time when the United States was emerging as a technologically advanced world power.

Early Life

Harold Hart Crane was born in the small town of Garrettsville in Ohio in the last year of the nineteenth century, the only child of Clarence Arthur Crane, a candy manufacturer in Cleveland who made a fortune from his invention of the Life Saver, and Grace Hart, who encouraged her son’s artistic inclinations while depending on him for advice, consolation, and support during and after the marriage failed. Anxious to please both parents, neither of whom ever relinquished their claims to their son during his short life, Crane made an effort to accept his father’s offers of positions in the business world and to give his mother the emotional reassurance that was absent in her life, but his determination to follow his inclinations as a writer were evident in a letter he wrote to a friend when he was twenty in which he insisted that commercial endeavors would not lead to “our complete surrender of everything else.”

By the age of fourteen, Crane was already publishing poems with what has been described as “an exquisite pre-Raphaelite tone.” He moved from Cleveland to New York in 1916, determined to “view the countless multitudes” of a country whose destiny he felt he could convey, even direct, in an aesthetic endeavor that he felt to be the noblest of callings. As he wrote to high school classmate William Wright, “I believe I have it in me to become the greatest singer of our generation.” Ostensibly preparing for admission to Columbia University, Crane immediately introduced himself to the progressive literary community in New York by submitting poems to journals such as The Little Review and Poetry and becoming friends with noted contemporaries such as Allen Tate, Malcolm Cowley, and Kenneth Burke.

At the same time, in an effort to maintain civil relations with his father, Crane alternated between jobs requiring physical labor and short stints writing advertising copy while hoping to explain his deepest needs and desires. “Try to imagine,” he wrote to his father, “working for the pure love of simply making something beautiful—something that maybe can’t be sold or used to sell anything else, but that is simply a communication between man and man, a bond of understanding and human enlightenment—which is what a real work of art is.” Crane understood that the monetary assistance his father provided was connected to an ability to succeed in a corporate domain, but he was so enthralled by literary achievement—he read James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) with enthusiasm when it appeared and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) three times—that, as he wrote to his mother in 1923, “If I can’t continue to create the sort of poetry that is my interest and deepest component in life—then it all means very little to me.”

Life’s Work

The work upon which Crane’s reputation was built and that accounts for the enduring interest in him as a significant American writer was essentially written between 1922 and 1927. Critical responses to his first collection, White Buildings (1926), was very enthusiastic, including the comment from the influential critic Yvor Winters that the author was “among the five or six greatest poets writing in English.” Although Crane’s poetry was challenging and unlikely to reach a public beyond serious readers, its amalgam of French Symbolist techniques and modern American subjects lent itself to a vocal presentation that the discerning critic Alan Williamson compares to “the surge and grandeur of Elizabethan drama.” Poems such as “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen” (which initially appeared in the magazine Secession in 1924), with its exposition of the clash between the mythical and the mechanistic; the well-known “Chaplinesque,” which Crane wrote as an affectionate tribute to the spirit of Charlie Chaplin after seeing the film The Kid (1921); and the six-poem sequence called “Voyages,” a meditation on love and separation written with “tremendous erotic intensity” and drawn from Crane’s relationship with Emil Opffer, were unlike anything previously written in the United States and retain their power decades later.

While Crane’s reputation as a gifted young artist was growing, his reputation as a debauched devotee of saloons, harbor dives, and other vulgar settings threatened to overshadow the seriousness of his efforts as a...

(The entire section is 1954 words.)

Hart Crane Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Harold Hart Crane was born in Garretsville, Ohio, on July 21, 1899, the son of Clarence and Grace Hart Crane. He was an only child, stuck between incompatible parents who each demanded his allegiance. His father, a successful businessman who founded what became a prosperous candy company, wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. His mother, who resented her husband’s absences and abuse, pressed the boy to develop in a more artistic direction.

When he was nine, the family recriminations exploded so fiercely that his mother had a nervous breakdown and entered a sanatorium, while Crane was sent to live with his grandmother in Cleveland. Eventually the whole family relocated to Cleveland, where Crane went to East High School. He was an introverted adolescent, occupying his free time in voracious reading or taking long walks alone. His high school years were punctuated by a trip to visit his grandmother’s plantation on the Isle of Pines, Cuba. Although the trip was ruined by family discord, it introduced Crane to the tropical regions to which he would return and which he would picture so magically in his last poems.

In November, 1916, Clarence Crane moved out, and his wife filed for divorce. Their marriage was over. The young Crane, who had been viewing the Greenwich Village arts explosion from a distance and had a few months previously had his first poem published in one of its small magazines, Bruno’s Weekly, quit high school and set off for New York City. Over the following few years he would get to know many literary figures, such as Allen Tate and Waldo Frank. Although Crane was to achieve a measure of success...

(The entire section is 675 words.)

Hart Crane Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

It is easy to imagine that writing, for Crane, was strenuous, even painful, for what he demanded of his verse was both lyrical intensity and intellectual density. At the core of his thought was a depiction of transcendence, a bursting of the bonds of received perception that led to a fuller recognition of how the past and myth were entwined with the present moment. He argued that the United States, addled in the 1920’s by materialism, could be regenerated by an increase in self-knowledge that could be gained by listening to its poets.

Hart Crane Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Hart Crane was born Harold Hart Crane to Grace Hart, a Chicago beauty, and C. A. (Clarence Authur) Crane, a self-made businessman who became a successful candy manufacturer. An only child, Crane felt that he was made the battleground of his parents’ conflicts. When Crane was fifteen years old, a family trip to his grandmother’s Caribbean plantation, the Isle of Pines, erupted in quarreling. Crane subsequently made two suicide attempts.

When he was seventeen, Crane went to New York to become a poet, not to prepare to enter college as his father thought. In the next several years, Crane alternated between living in Cleveland and New York, working at low-paying jobs, primarily in advertising, jobs that drained his...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Hart Crane Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Harold Hart Crane was an innovative and vital poet whose relatively small body of work established him as a significant twentieth century American poet. He was the only child of a prosperous family of New England background. Crane suffered an unhappy childhood, his affections divided between his estranged parents. Beginning when he was sixteen years old, he drifted from city to city, writing poetry as he moved. Following publication of one of his poems in The Little Review when he was eighteen, he rejected an opportunity to go to college. Instead, pursuing his interest in books, he found a job in a bookstore in New York. He soon left this job for work in a munitions plant, followed by employment in a Lake Erie shipyard,...

(The entire section is 475 words.)