My Grandmother's Love Letters Analysis

Hart Crane

The Poem

Hart Crane’s “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” consists of six stanzas, three of which are fairly traditional quatrains, three of which deviate from that established pattern. The “story” of the event that triggered the poem is relatively simple: The speaker discovers his grandmother’s letters tucked into a corner of the attic and contemplates reading them. The story of the poem itself, however, is far more complicated. Crane chooses to focus on the process of decision rather than on the act of reading.

“My Grandmother’s Love Letters” is one of Crane’s most straightforward poems, appearing early in Crane’s first book, White Buildings. It begins with a simple statement of fact: There are no stars to be seen because it is raining. Yet, even when they are covered with clouds, one knows the stars are there; memory serves as a way to interpret the universe. There is also room for human memory—the letters—which might open doors of human understanding. These letters are old—faded, fragile, friable—and they carry the weight of a personal history. Thus the speaker is acutely aware of the delicacy one needs to enter another person’s private terrain: “Over the greatness of such space/ Steps must be gentle.”

It is at this point that the reader is made aware that something larger is at stake. The poem suddenly contains a rhymed couplet, each line end-stopped, as though to give the reader time to pause: “It is...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Forms and Devices

“My Grandmother’s Love Letters” is a poem that does not become dated. It might as easily have been written at the end of the twentieth century as at its beginning. Part of this is because Crane, along with T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams, was experimenting with free verse. The lines have been “freed,” so that they resemble a more contemporary poem. From its opening lines with their strong iambic beat, there is a kind of ghost meter that dominates the poem. It comes out strongly in the iambic pentameter of “Through much of what she would not understand” and the broken pentameter of “And back to you again/ As though to her.” It is muted in the anapests and trochees of other lines. Nevertheless, the poem plays itself out against the recognized music of traditional English verse.

Aside from the two rhymed pairs (“hair,” “air” and “hand,” “understand”), there is a series of slant rhymes that thrusts the poem toward its compelling question: “soft,” “enough,” “mother,” “Elizabeth,” “roof,” “soft,” “myself.” The word “enough” is echoed twice, further heightening the issue of capacity. “Long enough” and “strong enough” qualify the question and underscore the speaker’s growing uncertainty. Their sound reverberates as the poem concludes with the repetition of “roof” and the finality of “laughter.”

The poem rings the changes not only with rhyme and...

(The entire section is 440 words.)


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