Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“My Grandmother’s Love Letters” means almost exactly what it says. It does not reach beyond its own experience of the mind’s working and reworking a central question: In the silence of time and memory, is it possible to find the original feeling and experience it “as though to her”? The poem works effectively on that level. The reader is left to ponder the same question from the framework of his or her own life. The ambiguities of the poem become part of its meaning. It asks the reader to share the experience through imagery and reflection, not through an identification with the speaker. In fact, the first-person pronoun does not enter until more than halfway through the poem, at which point the speaker rather indirectly raises the issue of privacy. What is it that he thinks she might not understand? The poem demonstrates perfectly what Allen Tate prescribed in his 1926 introduction to White Buildings: “The poem does not convey; it presents; it is not topical, but expressive.”

Crane became known as a visionary, almost mystical poet, whose series of complex metaphors taps into an intuitive experience of the world. Crane struggled over the course of his short life to find a subject for his vision and perhaps best succeeded in his long book-length poem The Bridge (1930), published shortly before his suicide in 1932. In it, he was able to link an affirmative myth of the United States to one of its most...

(The entire section is 596 words.)