Themes and Meanings
“For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen” is the literary equivalent of Art Deco design and architecture. As such, and from the vantage point of time, the poem exemplifies the exuberance and optimism, as well as many of the fears and doubts, of the 1920’s, a decade associated with the spirit of modernism and with the cultural angst that followed swift on the heels of World War I.
Separated from the era that engendered it, however, “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen” has deeper and more lasting significance. Crane is neither retelling nor redefining the two archetypal figures upon whom his hero and heroine are based; rather, he is interpreting them as representatives of individuals at odds either with themselves or with the world. From this angle, the poem is best summed up in these words from the poem: “There is the world dimensional for those untwisted by the love of things irreconcilable.”
Ultimately, the love affair the poem describes is not between a man and a woman but between the individual and his hope that there is a meaningful, purposeful universe somewhere just beyond the reach of his senses—but not beyond the grasp of his imagination.
“For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen” is a quest poem, then, and the quest is for sympathy and understanding. That Crane uses two timeless figures who are associated primarily with tragedy and destruction, in one case of a city, in the other of one’s immortal soul, to dramatize the quest is his way of asserting that love and forgiveness are the key to achieving the goal. For his Faustus and his Helen do indeed find their peace in each other through the catharsis of accepting themselves, their past deeds, and their present place in “the world dimensional.”