The imagination spans beyond despair


For Hart Crane’s first book of poems, the slender White Buildings (1926), there was a whole bouquet of reviews to die for. True, the owlish Edmund Wilson was not impressed: “almost something like a great style, if there could be such a thing as a great style which was, not merely not applied to a great subject, but not, so far as one can see, applied to any subject at all.” But he was outnumbered by the reviewers who trumpeted Crane’s arrival: Waldo Frank, Yvor Winters, Mark Van Doren, Archibald MacLeish, Matthew Josephson, and still others—several of them already Crane’s friends.

It may not have been all to Crane’s good that his advent was greeted with so much rapture and so little circumspection. (“Not since Whitman,” intoned Frank in The New Republic, “has so original, so profound and . . . so important a poetic promise come to the American scene.”) Crane’s belief in himself, already huge, ballooned astronomically.

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