Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 807
The six-part poem “Voyages” holds the last place, a position considered most important by Crane, in his first volume, White Buildings. In many of his shorter lyrics and in sections of The Bridge , the central figure is scarcely individuated, a near anonymous observer who undergoes a visionary experience...
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The six-part poem “Voyages” holds the last place, a position considered most important by Crane, in his first volume, White Buildings. In many of his shorter lyrics and in sections of The Bridge, the central figure is scarcely individuated, a near anonymous observer who undergoes a visionary experience rooted in the coming to a deeper appreciation of language and the human lot but not involving any biographical self-exposure. In “Voyages,” however, Crane strikes a more intimate note, dealing with the pain of parting and being apart from someone loved.
Given the scandal that would have accompanied a writer’s admission of homosexuality in this period, Crane’s reticence about given intimate details of his life in his works and his indirection in speaking about the objects of his affection are understandable. In this piece, two stylistic traits compound the difficulty of comprehending, while adding to the originality of the description of, his relation to his friend on which the poem is centered.
It is expected that a poem of friendship will be addressed to the friend, but Crane adds to such addresses numerous apostrophes. The literary use of apostrophe occurs when a poet speaks to an inanimate object as if it were a human interlocutor. Thus Crane writes, “O rivers mingling toward the sky// . . . let thy waves rear/ More savage than the death of kings.” The reader may notice in this passage the ascription of a personal pronoun, “thy,” to the water. The poet also grants the rivers a human will, indicating that he believes they can alter the height of their waves to answer his entreaties. By this apostrophizing practice, the love for his friend and his feeling for the sea are mingled in a complex web.
Not only are the sea and other bodies of water put into a human dialogue, but water is humanized with anthropomorphic descriptions as well. Crane depicts the Caribbean Sea by saying, “Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours.” The “shoulders” are the waves that move in predictable tides.
It is in the many passages of description in the poem that the second stylistic feature mentioned occurs (a feature that is even more prominent in The Bridge). This involves the presenting of a number of adjectival clauses, ambiguous in reference, before the noun they modify in such a way that until that noun appears it is difficult to identify the description’s object. The first stanza of the second section, for example, speaks of “this great wink of eternity” and “her undinal vast belly” before identifying that it is the ocean that these clauses are describing.
One effect of this usage is that, combined with the apostrophes and anthropomorphic references, the water and the poet’s missing friend are easily confused, which suggests there is some equivalence between the two. Crane is not arguing that the sea is actually partially human but rather the profound point that one’s feelings toward nature and one’s fellows may hold similar depths of emotion.
It has already been suggested that Crane’s poems characteristically move from a feeling of disconnectedness and melancholy to a realization of underlying integration. In this piece, by adopting almost a pantheistic position—that is, the belief that the world as a whole has a single soul and so is necessarily one—Crane seems to be prejudging his case. If the world is united in substance with the human, then it is easy to find resemblances between the two. The poet is not writing a philosophical argument, and it is not necessary for him to prove anything, but it might seem that the reason for his stress on this unifying underpinning is so that he can shift attention to another disturbing disharmony, not between humanity and nature but within each.
In plumbing his feelings, he finds that he has a love/hate relationship with both his friend and the ocean. His friend, after all, has left him; the sea, after all, is what separates him from this friend, who is pictured watching the receding waters on a ship. The very first section of the poem presents this duality. The narrator is observing children playing and feels it necessary to warn them that the “bottom of the sea is cruel.”
This simple contrast between two features of the sea is expanded through the rest of the poem. Crane, for example, explores how the ocean is more than a place for children to swim; it is freighted with a symbolic and linguistic history that has played a part in the narrator’s life and friendships. The movement of the poem is through a continual deepening of material. The narrator’s social and psychic connections to water are uncovered until the ending note, which affirms poetry as the one vehicle that can convey such a complex emotional and intellectual intertwining.