The bell-rope that gathers God at dawn
Dispatches me as though I dropped down the knell
Of a spent day - to wander the cathedral lawn
From pit to crucifix, feet chill on steps from hell.
Have you not heard, have you not seen that corps
Of shadows in the tower, whose shoulders sway
Antiphonal carillons launched before
The stars are caught and hived in the sun's ray?
The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;
And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave
Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score
Of broken intervals… And I, their sexton slave!
Oval encyclicals in canyons heaping
The impasse high with choir. Banked voices slain!
Pagodas, campaniles with reveilles out leaping-
O terraced echoes prostrate on the plain!…
And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
My word I poured. But was it cognate, scored
Of that tribunal monarch of the air
Whose thigh embronzes earth, strikes crystal Word
In wounds pledged once to hope - cleft to despair?
The steep encroachments of my blood left me
No answer (could blood hold such a lofty tower
As flings the question true?) -or is it she
Whose sweet mortality stirs latent power?-
And through whose pulse I hear, counting the strokes
My veins recall and add, revived and sure
The angelus of wars my chest evokes:
What I hold healed, original now, and pure…
And builds, within, a tower that is not stone
(Not stone can jacket heaven) - but slip
Of pebbles, - visible wings of silence sown
In azure circles, widening as they dip
The matrix of the heart, lift down the eye
That shrines the quiet lake and swells a tower…
The commodious, tall decorum of that sky
Unseals her earth, and lifts love in its shower.
The Broken Tower, among the last poems Hart Crane wrote, was written shortly before he took a boat from Mexico to Cuba. It's agreed this mysterious melodious poem (reminding me of Keats) is about a woman and love too (or looking for it or looking and not finding it trying to make it out of something new) (through destruction perhaps). The woman, his first heterosexual affair after a lifetime of homosexual ones, was with him on the ship, but had burned her hand so badly when a book of matches flamed while lighting a cigarette, she wasn't in the mood when Hart came to her wanting some consolation after being beaten up by a sailor who'd spurned his advances. "Goodbye, everybody," Hart said before he jumped off the ship into the blue Caribbean. Those who didn't like him (and there were some) said that narcissistic Crane attempted suicide for the attention, expecting the ship to come back and pick him up. When the ship did come back, Hart wasn't found, not even his body drowned, and the captain resumed his course for Havana assuming the poet had been devoured by sharks.
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