The Poem

“Legend” is a short poem of five stanzas of varying length. It is written in free verse and has elegiac qualities evidenced in the seriousness of the emotional statement being made about its topic: Hart Crane’s lament for a homosexual experience or (more likely) relationship recalled from his youth. His lost love has now become “legend” to him, and the poet ponders the meanings of this passing.

Although the poem is written in the first person, the poet refers explicitly to himself one time only; he creates an aura of subtlety about his work by couching most of the important statements in passive voice. Crane does not much address or even seem aware of the reader; it is as though he were whispering a secret to himself.

The first stanza is the shortest one, containing only two lines. Crane positions himself in front of a “silent” mirror where, it “is believed,” that “Realities plunge in silence by . . .” The redundancy of having a “silent” mirror in which reality plunges in “silence” is effective. His topic, in both its sexual and emotional nature, requires an absence of noise not only to preclude discovery but also to provoke an intensity in thought. Crane does not say who does the “believing,” but the believer is identified in the next stanza, where he is revealed to be the poet himself.

The reader does not yet know that the implicit “now” of the second stanza refers to the poet in the...

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Forms and Devices

The most important poetic devices in “Legend” are imagery and metaphor; each stanza contains elements that help the poet express the condition of his soul. The most important image is that of the mirror. Crane sees himself in the mirror, literally, but he also sees the reflection of his homosexual lover. Both are silent, and both are to be believed because the mirror does, in fact, reflect reality. The mirror is silent, “unwhispering,” but it works to make “Realities” evident.

In the second stanza, the rather commonplace metaphor of the moth and the flame appears. A moth is attracted to the beauty of the flame which destroys it; such is the case of the poet and his legendary lover. The reflection in the mirror is both of himself and of his lover, but at least one of these will destroy the other. Later, in the fourth stanza, a “smoking souvenir” is mentioned, a reference to the burned remnants of the relationship. It is the result of the “burning” mentioned in the middle stanza.

Explicit and implicit sexual images abound in the poem. The mirror is indicative of masturbation and narcissism as well as homosexuality. The “cleaving and burning” of the third stanza literally and emotionally indicate the sex act, on one hand, and an intense longing for a departed lover on the other. The “Spends out himself again” is another reference to masturbation. The “smoking souvenir” of the fourth stanza at once refers to the burning moth of the second and to an expended phallus. The “Bleeding eidolon,” or phantom, may be similarly explicated; it indicates a spent penis as well as the memory of his lost lover. Even so, the most explicit reference to the sex act occurs in the final stanza, where the poet records a “constant harmony” that has been achieved “drop by caustic drop.” The reference is both to masturbation and to the following announcement of the “legend”-lover, the homosexual relationship of his youth. “Drop by caustic drop” can be explained as a reference to orgasm; the “constant harmony” means that the significance of such a relationship has never wavered or faltered. Finally, it is called a “Relentless caper,” which ironically shows that it is not a caperish prank at all.


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