The Movement Greater

To preface, the wealth of Crane’s poetry extends far beyond any critical skill I am about to impose, or, for that matter, any other’s critical skill. And I doubt I have mediated sufficiently to grasp the power and breadth of Crane’s vision in this following passage. However, I must report the gleam of the following passage shone to me when I found what appears to be a connection of relationship to the celestial presence between a passage in Cape Hatteras by Hart Crane and the poem Bivouac on a Mountain Side by Walt Whitman.

Drawing off Jared Sinclair’s conclusion in class that in reading Bivouac on the Mountain Side he read the final telescoping to the stars as an inclusion of the human in the universal portrait (further supported by the ‘star-like’ adjectives used to describe the human fires, the horses owned by humans i.e., ‘flickering’ horses, ‘fires scattered near and far’) provides illumination for lines 79-91 in Cape Hatteras. If we are to look at Whitman’s treatment of the stars as an inclusion in the human story, even that the human story is mirrored in the reflection of the stars, Crane’s opening lines to the 7th stanza seem to echo this sentiment:

Stars scribble on our eyes the frosty sagas,
The gleaming cantos of unvanquished space….

The use of ‘unvanquished’ describes a malignancy in human expansion. Seemingly, that all other human movement has been a vanquishing, a conquering. This commentary departs from Whitman’s seemingly more banal, holistic vision. However, Crane is still using the presence of stars as a sort of witness to our ‘sagas’. Even though these ‘sagas’ are future for Crane (the stars are writing on our eyes the as yet of untouched attempts to ‘vanquish’, or conquer, the frontier of space) it still marks an inclusion of the upper with the lower.

This metaphor for Crane expounds in the event of flight aboard the wings of the ‘Wright wind-wrestlers’. After this seminal flight Crane describes the human ‘soul, by naphtha has fledged into new reaches’ and now ‘Already knows the closer clasp of Mars’. The world of Whitman’s far look to the stars which then seemed so ‘far out of reach’ has been uprooted by a vehicle that gives flight to the human fancy and the possibility of reaching all that has hitherto been unknowable to the human race.

And the fear of this power in Crane, distant from Walt’s world on the mountainside, returns and asks, ‘To what fierce schedules, rife of doom apace!’ will invade the frontier of the stars above?

As Whitman observes the presence of the stars Crane considers our vaulting towards them. For Crane they are no longer symbols of eternity reflecting our presence in valleys but rather points marking our next gutting conquest.

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1 Response to The Movement Greater

  1. AVZ says:

    Great post — I started seeing stars everywhere in Crane, though I didn’t connect them, as you do, to that particular poem from Drum Taps. I love your reading of gutted space, thought. There’s s strong elegiac undertow to Crane’s praise of technological ingenuity.

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