The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“O Carib Isle!” is a lyric poem of thirty-four lines divided into seven irregular stanzas with intermittent rhyme. The stanzas are further grouped into two sections followed by a concluding four-line stanza. The poem presents a beach scene in which a Caribbean island teeming with nonhuman life is associated with death in the mind of the speaker, the poet Hart Crane himself rather than an imaginary persona. In the first stanza, the poem describes the foot end of a grave in white sand where lilies have been laid and a tarantula rustles among the dry flower stalks. Crabs scuttling sideways seem to rearrange the letters of the name of the dead written in the sand. However, nothing in nature seems to mourn except a partly withered eucalyptus plant.

In the second and third stanzas, the speaker sees the seashells littering the sand as mother-of-pearl “frames of tropic death.” Empty of the bodies that once gave them life, the shells themselves are reminders of death. The shells also seem to the speaker to mark off graves in squared patterns in the sand. If the speaker can count these shells, then he may “speak a name” that the names of the living and dying trees and flowers near the beach contradict. The name may be death, or it may be God. The “brittle crypt” suggests shells and bones in which the dead are encrypted. A wind mounting toward hurricane force also suggests the poet’s withdrawn breath. The breathless silence evokes the atmosphere...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“O Carib Isle!” comprises two groupings of fifteen lines, each ending with a rhymed couplet. (Metrically, the seventh line is a single line that is divided to indicate a paragraph break.) These two groupings are followed by a four-line concluding stanza. Crane uses rhyme sparingly to define the poem’s overall structure and to emphasize key points. In spite of the loose and, at first glance, haphazard placement of rhyme, a careful reading reveals that the poem actually falls neatly into three parts with its major division marked by rhymed couplets as well as spaces on the page.

“O Carib Isle!” is characterized by complex meter rather than free verse. Iambic pentameter and end rhyme provide a foundation for the lines that depart from the regular pattern. For example, the divided line “In wrinkled shadows—mourns./ And yet suppose” is perfectly even metrically: ten syllables with stresses on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth syllables. The opening line further illustrates the poem’s metrical complexity. The first line has twelve syllables rather than the ten expected in a perfect iambic pentameter line. After the definite article, an unstressed syllable, Crane begins boldly with a four-syllable word (“tarantula”), which is two iambs, then finishes the line with four iambs starting with the accented first syllable of “rattling.” The effect of the very word “tarantula” is to make the line heavy with syllables like the...

(The entire section is 551 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Berthoff, Warner. Hart Crane: A Re-introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Hart Crane: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Cole, Merrill. The Other Orpheus: A Poetics of Modern Homosexuality. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Fisher, Clive. Hart Crane. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002.

Hammer, Langdon. Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Leibowitz, Herbert A. Hart Crane: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.

Mariani, Paul L. The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

Rehder, Robert. Stevens, Williams, Crane, and the Motive for Metaphor. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Unterecker, John. Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969.