Archive

Hart Crane

Title: My Grandmother’s Love Letters
Poet: Hart Crane
Link: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177645


This is a space in which I will celebrate the small miracles of poetry. It is only fit­ting to begin with one of the small, metrical miracles so common in Hart Crane’s poetry. Constrained by the predilections of English to an iambic base, he knew how and when to fly the coop.

The poem begins in the stars of memory. In other stars, silent answers have been known to creep, and here too, in the trembling expanse separating the generations, is silence and gentle steps. “How much room for memory there is.” We find “the letters of my mother’s mother,” grown “brown and soft.” Here are the echoes of old keys, which the poetic voice must first carry back to their source, then retransmit to the present, leading his “grandmother by the hand / Through much of what she would not understand.” And so he stumbles.

Now the miracle. All throughout, though we readers may have forgotten it, is a light rain, softly audible. We may surmise that the rain does not change throughout, in response to the shifting moods of the poem: the universe is, after all, indifferent. Yet the effect of the rain adjusts itself. Crane captures this with great metrical subtlety. Consider the following two lines:

In˘ the˘ loose/ gir/dle˘ of˘ soft/ rain/

With˘ such/ a˘ sound/ of˘ gent/ly˘ pit/y˘ing˘ laugh/ter˘

The first line, with its simple oscillation of pyrrhics and spondees, creates the comforting, loose girdle of which it speaks. Gentle rain swaddles our narrator as he reads his grandmother’s letters, and we can feel, in the spacious pyrrhics, the “room enough” for these letters. But, come the end of the poem, the rain is “gently pitying laughter,” with the falling meter (trochee, dactyl, trochee) heightening this light scorn. Thus, by simple but ingenious deviations from the iambic framework of the poem, Crane tracks the shifting mood of the narrator, as seen through his perception of the rain.