Jack Kerouac and Hart Crane’s Proclamations

Hart Crane  (1899-1932) standing in fromt of The Brooklyn Bridge

AG: So it’s one assertion, or one, say, magisterial mind –  The (very) last chorus  [Chorus 242] of Mexico City Blues. Now, recapping from (Jack) Kerouacs magisterial point-of-view – instructions for creating a liberated society – (what was the phrase used by (Chogyam) Trungpa last night (sic)?, the name of Naropa?) – the creation of an enlightened society):

“The sound in your mind/is the first sound/that you could sing/ If you were singing/at a cash register/with nothing on yr mind – / But when that grim reper [sic]/comes to lay you/look out my lady/ He will steal all you got/ while you dingle with the dangle/and having robbed you/  Vanish/ Which will be your best reward/T’were better to get rid o’/ John O’Twill, then sit a-mortying/In this Half Eternity with nobody/To save the old man being hanged/In my closet for nothing/And everybody watches/When the act is done -/  Stop the murder and the suicide!/ All’s well!/ I am the Guard” – (So that’s like a bodhisattva proclamation. So it’s proclamation. As Väinämöinen’s proclamation, that’s Kerouac’s proclamation (We’ve had Whitman’s proclamation)

Here’s a proclamation by Hart Crane – Much more strange. Does anybody know Hart Crane’s poetry at all here? (He was) an American who committed suicide jumping off the fantail of a boat coming up from Veracruz, 1931, great friend of all the intellectuals of the (19)20’s, lived in Greenwich Village. Perhaps the greatest American poet of the century in the old manner (which is to say, the classical, but he took the classical pentameter of (Percy Bysshe) Shelley to its extreme. and also to the extreme of abstraction,  and yet with such solidity and intensity that it formed some kind of whirlwind of breath (like Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”, with which we began this class). So, having started with gentle breath, I’m now returning to the big wind.

The poem is called “The Bridge”, which is a sort of modern epic, in which he picks up various Americanist local particulars, pays homage to (Edgar Allan) Poe, to Walt Whitman, to the Dharma Bums of his time, to the railroad track, to the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge, to the American Indians, to the mythology of the Machine Age, attempting to find a bridge between the old America known at the end of the nineteenth-century and at the time of his birth and the more craven commercial materialistic (and yet iron-shod) futurity that was prophesied by (William Carlos) Williams, (Alfred) Stieglitz, Walt Whitman and the others – cities interlaced with iron on the Plains, the Modern Age, as we know it – his little kind of cut-up, collage, section about the old winos and hobos on the railroad, called “The River” – So I’ll read that first, because it’s just a little sort of Kerouac-ian style, or Americanist style, Thomas Wolfe-style, nostalgia – and then get on to his heroic stanzas at the end of the poem in “Atlantis” 

[Allen begins by reading from Hart Crane’s “The River” – (“Stick your patent name on a signboard/brother – all over- going west – young man – Tintex -Japalac- Certain-teed Overalls ad/and lands sakes! under the new playbill ripped/in the guaranteed corner – see Bert Williams what?/Minstrels when you steal a chicken just/save me the wing for if it isn’t/Erie it ain’t for mils around a/Mazda – and the telegraphic night coming on Thomas/a Ediford…”….”So the 20th Century – so/whizzed the Limited – roared by and left/three men, still hungry on the tracks, ploddingly/watching the tail lights wizen and converge, slip-/ping gimleted and neatly out of sight.  The last bear, shot drinking in the Dakotas/Loped under wires that span the mountain stream./Keen instruments, strung to a vast precision/Bind town to town and dream to ticking dream./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…”….”Youngsters with eyes like fjords, old reprobates/With racetrack jargon,- dotting immensity/They lurk across her, knowing her yonder breast/Snow-silvered, sumac-stained or smoky blue -/Is past the valley-sleepers, south or west/ – As I have trod the rumorous midnights, too…”

And, from the “Atlantis” section – This is like a pure music, pure breath. The imagery sort of pounded and hammered, like hammered metal. One image condensed upon another, and linked in a series of vowels – very powerful, perfect for blowing on. Perfect for blowing through – like a clarion. But the interesting thing is that finally it verges on such pure desire, or proclamation of desire, but with what object, finally? A bridge between dirty modernity and ideal antiquity, but still almost a suicidally urgent prayer that has no focus except he pure breath of wind that flows through it. The image is of the Brooklyn Bridge – “Through the bound cable strands, the arching path/Upward, veering with light, the flight of string, -/ Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate/The whispered rush, telepathy of wires./Up the index of night, granite and steel -/Transparent meshes – flecklexs the gleaming staves -/Sibylline voices flicker, waveringly stream/As though a god were issue of the strings….”….”O Answerer of all, – Anenone, -/Now while thy petals spend the suns about us, hold -/ (O Thou whose radiance doth inhert me)/Atlantis, – hold thy floating singer late!/  So to thine Everpresence, beyond time,/Like spears ensanguined of one tolling star/That bleeds infinity – the orphic strings,/Sidereal phalanxes, leap and converge:/- One Song, one Bridge of Fire! Is it Cathay,/Now pity steeps the grass and rainbows ring/The serpent with the eagle in the leaves…?/Whispers antiphonal in azure swing.

Well, that’s really (a) powerful piece of oratory, invoking a breath like (Percy Bysshe) Shelleys breath. Certain, sure, swift, almost inevitable sounding, grasping toward some infinity which probably resides in the infinite feeling of the poem itself, and the infinite oceanic feeling of the poem itself. He had to work on it a lot (in the sense of hammer it together,  revise and revise and revise) to get that total intellectual opacity, actually. Though if you analyze it, there’s lots of symbolic hints and clues to piece it together into some kind of statement about modernity and desire and love and basically modern general ideas, or modern stereotypes, but set forth with such a chain of sound that you can simply use it almost as an orchestral or saxophone piece to blow on. And if you read it paying attention to the punctuation, you can approximate the exaltation ambitioned in the construction. [to Student] – You had (a question)?

Student; (What is the) name of this poem?

AG: Oh, this is (called), the “Atlantis” section of “The Bridge”, by Hart Crane. A poem, “The Bridge” – section eight (VIII) – “Atlantis”, (which has the epigraph: “Music is then the knowledge of that which relates to love in harmony and system” (Plato).

[Audio for the above can be heard here beginning at approximately four-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-three minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *