Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio in July of 1899. He was the son of Clarence A. Crane and Grace Edna Hart. Clarence was a businessman who invited the Life Savers candy. He, unfortunately, sold the patent before the product became popular. The Cranes did not have a happy marriage. They fought throughout Hart Crane’s childhood and eventually divorced when he was eighteen.
Early Life and Education
His childhood was spent mainly under the guardianship of his grandmother. She owned an extensive collection of books and it was within her library that Crane was first exposed to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. These writers would come to play a major role in Crane’s writing. His teenage years saw him investigate the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Honore del Balzac. He was also interested in philosophy, specifically that of Plato. Crane’s family had a number of financial issues that kept him from attending school consistently.
He did spend two years at East High School in Cleveland before dropping out. He immediately moved to New York City to attend Columbia University. It was his goal to be accepted to the university via the entrance exam. When he arrived in New York Crane instead started a writing career. He worked at various copywriting jobs and moved frequently. He eventually found works as an advertising copywriter and within his father’s factory.
Throughout the following years, Crane began writing his own works. These were published by small literary magazines, such as Pagan. These works showed an interest in both traditional writing and experimental techniques. His first volume of poetry, White Buildings, was published in 1926. It was met with positive reviews and contains some of his best-known works. These include ‘For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,’ ‘Chaplinesque’ and ‘Voyages.’ These years also saw him fall involve with Emil Opffer, a Danish merchant. The two moved in together in Brooklyn Heights in 1924.
Unfortunately, the relationship did not last and Crane’s emotional state began to deteriorate. He spent a great deal of time either euphoric or depressed. These upheavals were calmed through increased consumption of alcohol and sex. His grandmother, who had been so important to his childhood, died in 1928. His father, with whom he’d had a difficult relationship, died soon after, leaving Crane with an inheritance.
Year in Paris
Hart Crane took the money he had inherited from his father and traveled to Europe. While there he associated with some of the most prominent figures in Paris’s American expatriate community. He continued to drink and was arrested at one point for fighting a waiter over his tab. He spent six days in prison before Harry Crosby, one of his close friends, paid the 800 francs fine.
It was around this period of time that Crane returned to America and finished his long work, The Bridge. It was meant as a response to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. He had been working on this piece since before the publication of White Buildings but it was not received well. The reviews stated that he had come close to making a great poem, but ultimately failed. Crane’s darkening mental state was not improved by the reviews. He has stopped writing and did not seem to be able to return to his previous creative works.
Final Years and Suicide
The following years saw him apply and receive a Guggenheim fellowship. It was his intention to travel to Europe and study the culture. He would, he proposed, investigate the American poetic sensibility. Rather than traveling to Europe though, he went to Mexico. It was here he engaged in his first heterosexual relationship with Peggy Baird. She was married at the time to Malcolm Crowley, the American writer, and historian. The two eventually divorced and Peggy joined Crane.
One of Crane’s final works, The Broken Tower, came out of this relationship. He was unable to shake the feeling that he was ultimately a failure. These thoughts had plagued him for a while but came to a head in 1932.
Hart Crane has embarked on a trip to New York upon the steamship Orizaba. While onboard he made advances on a male crew member and was beaten. On April 27th, after drinking heavily, he stood on the railing of the ship, called out, “Goodbye, everybody!” And jumped into the Gulf of Mexico. He did not leave a suicide note and his body was never recovered. A marker was put up in Park Cemetery in Ohio.
After his death, the collection, The Collected Poems of Hart Crane was published. It was followed by collections of his letters, and two more anthologies of his works published in 1986 and 2006.