The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Circumstance” exists in draft versions that Hart Crane composed before his death in 1932. It was not published in Crane’s lifetime and might best be regarded as a complete draft rather than as a poem the poet considered finished. Dedicated to Xochipilli, the Aztec flower god referred to in the poem, its twenty-four lines are divided into three stanzas of uneven length.

The poem is the speaker’s effort to find, in pre-Columbian America, a better way of responding to time than he has found in his own culture. The first stanza describes the ruined site of a ritual sacrifice. The remains of a throne and a stone basin where sacrifices were performed remind the speaker of the bloody history of the Aztecs, including their fatal conflicts with the exploring Spaniards. The stanza may be interpreted as a description of the clash of the Aztecs with the Spaniards, each of whom saw the other as “a bloody foreign clown.” On one hand, the Aztecs, who had not seen horses before, “dismounted” the Spaniards from their horses in battle. On the other hand, the Spaniards “dismounted” the Aztec rulers. It might be the blood and bones of either group floating in the stone basins. The history of conquest is bloody, no matter who wins, but Crane’s sympathy seems to lie with the Aztecs.

The second stanza proposes ways to absorb, or at least take intellectual possession of, history, “more and more of Time,” as the Aztec god has. Buying...

(The entire section is 527 words.)