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On "Atlantis"

Thomas A. Yingling

… [I]t is in the sequence’s final poem, "Atlantis," that Crane attempts his most ecstatic readerly marriage, and that section also is informed by the ideological constraints of gender I have been discussing here. As John Irwin has pointed out (in "Hart Crane’s Logic of Metaphor"), the real bridge in Brooklyn with which the poem began becomes by the conclusion of the text a completely metaphorical bridge, symbolic not only of all those bridges between people and time that the epic has attempted to build but also of the very act of creation and imagination. The bridge in "Atlantis" becomes a metaphor for metaphor, and the entire text threatens to collapse into obscurity under the burden of this textual weight. …

… Crane’s verbal experimentation constricts upon language until finally meaning is subsumed in the reader’s inability to locate a single, stable referent for the text. … Crane simply cannot say what he means, nor can he say what he means simply.

from Thomas E. Yingling, Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies (Chicago: U Chicago P, 1990), 221-222.

Lee Edelman

[The last stanza of the poem is quoted]

Even a cursory reading of this passage must acknowledge that whatever "synthesis" Crane may be trying tom proclaim here undergoes serious modification by other, less "conclusive" elements. On the one hand, the stanza offers images of transcendence: the bridge leads "beyond time," while its strung cables "leap and converge"; but on the other hand, it introduces this concept of "infinity" through the image of those cables viewed as "spears ensanguined of one tolling star / That bleeds inifinity." Though this bloody wound heralds a kind of triumph rather than defeat, its violence cannot be overlooked, especially when the strings that "leap and converge" are characterized as "orphic." Convergence and consolation thus mingle here with wounds and dismemberment – a dismemberment directed against the poet’s own stringed instrument of "Song." By the same token, that celebratory cry, that apparent hymn of synthetic unity – "One Song, one Bridge of Fire" – gives way immediately to a strangely inquisitive mood that terminates in the disjunctive void of an ellipsis. Despite the "rainbows" that betoken a promise of reconciliation, the poem ends with a refusal of closure, leaving the "whispers antiphonal" to "swing" unsteadily in an ambiguous field of "azure."

from Lee Edelman, Chapter 4, "The Bridge," in Transmemberment of Song: Hart Crane’s Anatomies of Rhetoric and Desire (Stanford: Stanford U P, 1987) 184-189

Langdon Hammer

… [T]he "stallion glow" of the stars does not refer to an object or an event in the world; the stars have an aura of earthly pleasures, the "glow" of them, but only that. The senses restored to Crane’s singer have been detached from any possible natural context, and then reorganized – projected upward – according to linguistic principles such as rhyme, meter, and alliteration.

This practice produces the "disorganization of the senses" for which Crane’s work is notorious, an effect his critics have attributed to influences as different as Rimbaud and alcoholism. Whatever causes one wants to ascribe, synesthesia in Crane’s work points toward a mechanical, not an organic, totality, a totality arrived at by submitting experience to the fragmenting strictures of abstract form (passing "through the eye"). The satisfactions of the senses I spoke of above can only be poetic, which is to say linguistic, satisfactions; and they constitute the triumph of one kind of sense – one kind of order – at the expense of another. In the eighth stanza of "Atlantis," the "stitch and stallion glow" of the stars is a harnessing of the masculine eros in Crane’s poem that functions on at least two levels. In its translation from earth to the stars, the "stallion glow" achieves permanent ("indubitable") form by a process analogous to the way in which the phrase itself has been made. Crane has removed it from natural reference ("stallion" as slang for a desiring and desirable man) and inserted it in the linguistic order of the text ("stallion" as an alliterative predicate of :stars"). The word signifies – it is not mere sound – but Crane’s "counter-world" is as remote from the human world as the stars are from earth.

To constellate words in this way is a bravura, Marlovian act – the very definition of "the high style." The energy of that linguistic act is deployed in the service of tropes that fragment and reorganize the mimesis of sexual acts, in such a way as to interpret poetic composition as itself an ascetic act of self-binding or, to use Crane’s trope, "beating." The "steeled" structure of the bridge is brought into being by a sacrifice of conventional mimesis identified in this case with a sacrifice of the body, producing a specifically masochistic mode of transport. Crane’s intimate address of the bridge in the eighth stanza – "Thou," "Thou," Thou," "Thou" – reverberates "with sound of doom" because the object of the quest (the bridge) becomes a subject when, as his senses are stripped away (that is, ‘shed"), the subject of the quest (the poet-quester) becomes an object. The bridge gains subjectivity by way of a process that objectifies the poet.

From Langdon Hammer, Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism (Princeton: Princeton U P, 1993) 198.

Samuel R. Delany

[Delany is commenting upon a 1963 memoir by editor and poet Samuel Loveman in which he recounts his return with Crane to the Opffer residence at 110 Columbia Heights]

… What, on any late night’s stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1920a, were two gay men likely to see, regardless of their mood?

The nighttime walkways of the city’s downtown bridges have traditionally been heavy homosexual cruising areas, practically since their opening – one of the reasons that, indeed, after dark, Crane and Emil had been able to wander across it – holding hands – with minimal fear of recriminations. They certainly could have not walked so during the day.

But perhaps that evening, with his old friend Loveman, on the Bridge’s cruisy boardwalk, Crane might have heard the rich and pointed banter of a group of dishy queens lounging against the rail, or, perhaps, even the taunts leveled at them from a passing gaggle of sailors – who often crossed the Bridge back to the Navy Yard, in their uneasy yet finally symbiotic relationship with the bridge’s more usual nighttime pedestrians. …

from Samuel R. Delany, "Atlantis Rose: Some Notes on Hart Crane," in Longer Views: Extended Essays (Middletown: Wesleyan U P, 1996), 213-214

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