Expansive Poetics – 33 (Hart Crane 1 – “The River”)


[Hart Crane (1899-1932)]

So we have Hart Crane, “The Bridge”, which is the bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn – a whole poem is supposed to be symbolic between present and future, present America and future mechanical scientific space-age America, written in the (19)20’s and early (19)30’s, at a time of Bauhaus architecture, Chrysler Building, space visions, science-fiction, Expressionists, Fritz Lang “Metropolis, visions of futurity. Several elements common between Whitman and Hart Crane are there. 

I”ll begin with the section that we have here – “The River” – I don’t have the whole section of “The River”, I just have fragments from it, so I’ll read all of “The River”, so you get it in its context. [Allen begins reading from the opening of “The River”] – “Stick your patent name on a signboard/brother – all over – going west – young man/ Tintex – Japalac – Certain-teed Overalls ads/and lands sakes! under the new playbill ripped/in the guarenteed corner…”…”But some men take their liquor slow – and count/ – Though they’ll confess no rosary nor clue -/The river’s minute by the far brook’s year./Under a world of whistles, wires and steam/Caboose-like they go ruminating through/Ohio, Indiana – blind baggage -/To Cheyenne tagging… Maybe Kalamazoo” – So here’s where you have your text (in the Expansive Poetics anthology) – “Time’s rendings, time’s blendings they construe/As final reckonings of fire and snow;/Strange bird-wit, like the elemental gist/Of unwalled winds they offer, singing low/My Old Kentucky Home and Casey Jones,/Some Sunny Day. I heard road-gang chanting so./And afterwards, who hada colt’s eyes – one said,/”Jesus! Oh I remember watermelon days!” And sped/High in a cloud of merriment…”….”Trains sounding the long blizzards out – I heard/Wail into distances I knew were hers./Papooses crying on the winds’ long mane/Screamed redskin dynasties that fled the brain,/ – Dead echoes! But I knew her body there,/Time like a serpent down her shoulder, dark,/And space, an eaglet’s wing, laid on her hair…” – More Americana, this is a description of the Mississippi River. So I’ll continue for the rest of the section – [Allen continues] – “Under the Ozarks, domed by Iron Mountain,/The old gods of the rain lie wrapped in pools/Where eyeless fish curvet a sunken fountain./And re-descend with corn from querulous crows./Such pilferings make up their timeless eatage/Propitiate them for their timber torn/By iron, iron – always the iron dealt cleavage!/They doze now, below axe and powder horn./ And Pullman breakfasters glide glistening steel/From tunnel into field – iron strides the dew..” –  That’s a pretty line for the railroad – “iron strides the dew” – 
[Allen continues, to the end of the poem] – “Straddles the hill, a dance of wheel on wheel,/You have a half-/hour’s wait at Siskiyou,/Or stay the night and take the next train through/Southward, near Cairo passing, you can see/The Ohio merging..”….”The River lifts itself from its long bed./ Poised wholly on its dream, a mustard glow/Tortured with history, it’s one will – flow!/ – The Passion spreads in wide tongues, choked and slow,/Meeting the Gulf, hosannas silently below.” – Well, a bit longwinded. I probably bored you a little bit with that. It’s a nice long passage, but the key was the part I took out, which was the Whitmanic Kerouac-ian address/apostrophe to the bums of America – the railroad bums. 

[Audio for the above [ Allen reading Hart Crane] can be heard here, starting at approximately sixty-seven-and-a-half minutes in, and continuing until approximately seventy-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in]  

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