Hart Crane’s Hurricane

[“After The Hurricane”  (I938)  Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)]

AG: If Shelley’s “Ode to The West Wind” brings the breath theme to the height of inspiration, or, you know, some great tempest of inspiration, this brings it up to a hurricane, in terms of the emotions, the imagery, and also the energy used to pronounce it and the meters used   (and, as I said, the kinds of meters used are the meters that are used, that were used, at the height of classical Greek tragedy, at the moment of revelation). So,  “The Hurricane”,  by Hart Crane written in 1927, one of the very few poems of this century that can match that great, classic, rhythmic sound.

“Lo, Lord, Thou ridest!/Lord, Lord, Thy swifting heart/Nought stayeth, nought now bideth/But’s smithereened apart!/Ay! Scripture flee’th stone!/Milk-bright, Thy chisel wind/
Rescindeth flesh from bone/To quivering whittlings thinned—/Swept, whistling straw! Battered,/Lord, e’en boulders now outleap/Rock sockets, levin-lathered!/Nor, Lord, may worm outdeep/Thy drum’s gambade, its plunge abscond!/Lord God, while summits crashing/Whip sea-kelp screaming on blond/Sky-seethe, dense heaven dashing—/Thou ridest to the door, Lord!/ Thou bidest wall nor floor, Lord!” – It’s real short, one page, he gets it right up there

Peter Orlovsky: “Thou bidest..” what?

AG: “Thou bidest ..” –  the only thing, I got tongue-tied on “Whip sea-kelp screaming on blond/Sky-seethe, dense heaven dashing” (which is description, actually, a literal imagistic description of the hurricane). (So he’s)  calling the hurricane “Lord”, “swifting heart” – Nothing stays, nothing remains stable, [“Nought stayeth, nought now bideth”],  nothing “bides”,  but is “smithereened apart”  (in the wind) – “Scripture flee’th stone!” –  (what does that mean? – that the letters flee the stone)

Peter Orlovsky; The wind blows the letters off the stone?

AG: Yeah – “Milk-bright, Thy chisel wind/Rescind..”  – (the wind is like a chisel, cutting flesh from bone, or rescinding flesh from bone, into little “whittlings” – “quivering whittlings” – thinned down to little “quivering whittlings”,  like swept, like to “whistling straw”, battered). Boulders even leap out of their rock sockets – “Rock sockets, levin-lathered”- (“Levin-lathered”, I don’t know what “levin” is, actually – “levin-lathered”, I suppose some sea, lathered by some sea-surge) – “Thy drum’s gambade” – (I guess “gambled” is a musical term, or some drum roll – “it’s plunge” – (even the worm can’t get deeper, get out of the way of the roar of the drum, of the hurricane, or “abscond” from the “plunge” of the hurricane, can’t get away), which.. “while summits” of waves crash down because sea-kelp are whipped up “screaming on blond/Sky-seethe” – (in the sky, all the froth seething in the sky) – So there’s a little bit of Anglo-Saxon condensation, he’s got “blond/Sky-seethe”,  just like Ezra Pound’s “Seafarer”  terminology) – “dense heaven dashing—/Thou ridest to the door, Lord!/ Thou bidest wall nor floor, Lord!” – (You ride up to the door – “Thou bidest” – you don’t “bide”, or you don’t put up with, walls or floors, (you)  just whip them away – it’s a total power)

I was talking about this with  a scholar two weeks ago in Chapel Hill who was doing his PhD thesis on this sheaf of poems, and I opined (that) probably it was Hart Crane’s ecstatic image of being fucked in the ass by sailors, also. Like a total – “Thou ridest to the door, Lord!/ Thou bidest wall nor floor, Lord” – actually being mounted and taken by the Lord, sort of.. because the emotions involved are very similar, and, probably, this is, like, a projection of his emotional state too, at a time when he was in really relatively bad depression, living in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.

Anyway, I want to read it for the sound again – [Allen re-reads the poem] – (That’s real good. One of the best in America.  He later develops it into “Atlantis”, the Atlantis section of “The Bridge”, that kind of rocketing meter, or volcanic meter, or hurricane meter. So that…

Peter Orlovsky: Did he take a long time to work on those poems?

AG: It says 1927 to (19)31 and there’s a number of…  It was recently published.. It was published as another, under another title, actually , in the… lets see..  published as “The Hour” – in Transition magazine –which was, like, the great avant-garde magazine of the (19)20’s, December 1927.  Then was published as “The Hurricane” (he rewrote it, as “The Hurricane”)  in The New Republic, in 1931 ( The New Republic – I think, the literary section was then being edited by, edited maybe by, Edmund Wilson, or some high-class literary critic, some intelligent person) . So.. interesting…in a series of poems about Key West .

Does anybody know Hart Crane’s work? –  or does anybody not know Hart Crane’s work? – Well, it’s among the most powerful, the mightiest, in the twentieth century, in terms of rock ‘n roll, rock ‘n roll rhythm, like, total power, total phallic power of measure and ancient archetypal rhythm. And the greatest of the rhythmic things is from “The Bridge“, at the end of “The Bridge”, the “Atlantis” section. He also has a great “Address to Walt Whitman“, real tender and tearful, and a fantastic little sketch of (Edgar Allen) Poe in the New York subway, underground, and a little pre-On The Road vision of railroad bums in, like, a shanty-town behind the railroad cooking (and) gossiping . Well, just aside information.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately four-and-a-half  minutes  and concluding at approximately twelve-minutes in]

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