My Grandmother's Love Letters

by Hart Crane

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Who is the voice/persona of Hart Crane’s “My Grandmother’s Love Letters”?

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In Hart Crane's poem, "My Grandmother's Love Letters," it occurs to me that though a man was writing the poem and describing his hesitation over reading "Elizabeth's" love letters, that the person really making a decision about the letters was the grandson—the "child-person" who was most profoundly touched by his grandmother.

The part of the speaker probably affected most by their time together would be the child within. Children are more impressionable than adults, and I think that the child fears confronting the woman "Elizabeth" who would not be familiar to him like his grandmother is: she would seem a stranger. Perhaps there is a certain awkwardness. Kids don't ever want to think that their parents have sex: they would as soon imagine that the kids were dropped off by a stork, or hatched. The reality of adult relationships is very hard for those of certain ages to deal with. This same discomfort might be something that causes the child within the speaker to hesitate. Will he want to read letters that speak of undying devotion or passion for Elizabeth?—feelings that were directed not to a grandmother, but to a young woman? It is in this form of "denial," too, that children are unable to imagine their parents as anything other than adults: that like Athena with Zeus, we were "born" out of a parent's skull, full grown. His grandmother has always been a grandmother to him.

Images that allow me to hear the child's persona are in words or phrases such as: stars, soft rain, my mother's mother, brown and soft, snow, gentle, trembles, birch limbs, fingers, back to you, lead my grandmother, stumble, rain, and laughter.

We must also consider the adult who stands facing the shadowy corner of the attic. Though I still lean toward the dominance of the child's persona, the adult is also trying to understand this poignant moment, perhaps in a totally different light. Word or phrases for the adult are: memory, much room for memory, Elizabeth, pressed so long, into a corner of the roof, greatness of such space, invisible white hair, fingers long enough, silence strong enough, carry back music to its source, as though to her, much of what she would not understand, gently pitying laughter.

In comparing the two "lists," to me one seems to come from a younger persona, while the second deals with things that would occupy a more adult persona. The name "Elizabeth" is a word with serious impact, as is the phrase, "a sound of gently pitying laughter." I don't believe the child would respond to these lines in the same way.

With this said, I'm thinking more to the many sides a person may have: the ability to be childlike but adult when necessary: the man who is a CEO during the week but a clown at a children's hospital on the weekend—different sides of the same person. This is "who" I see in the poem. The adult is there, perhaps to clean out the corner of the attic. The grandmother's letters need to be "handled"…throw them out? save them? Read them—that could be embarrassing! However the child is drawn to them, thinks of reading them, but fears he will find a stranger in the pages. Perhaps he is fearful that he will lose some portion of her if he reads them. And thus, there is the conflict presented in the rhyming couplet, the hesitation that asks, for different reasons, what should I do? Or what if I do...

Two voices speak to me: two sides of the same person responding differently to the memory of his grandmother.

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