If the poet is to be held completely to the already evolved and exploited sequences of imagery and logic—what field of added consciousness and increased perceptions (the actual province of poetry, if not lullabies) can be expected when one has to relatively return to the alphabet every breath or two?
In the minds of people who have sensitively read, seen, and experienced a great deal, isn’t there a terminology something like short-hand as compared to usual description and dialectics, which the artist ought to be right in trusting as a reasonable connective agent toward fresh concepts, more inclusive evaluations?
– Hart Crane to Harriet Monroe, O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane ed. Langdon Hammer, New York: Four Walls Eight Windows. (1997)
Many readers, during his lifetime and since, have had trouble following the associative leaps and subterranean logic of that “vision.” When Crane submitted his reverent elegy “At Melville’s Tomb”—actually one of his more straightforward poems—to the magazine Poetry, the editor, Harriet Monroe, replied, with bewilderment, “Take me for a hard-boiled unimaginative unpoetic reader, and tell me how dice can bequeath an embassy (or anything else); and how a calyx (of death’s bounty or anything else) can give back a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph; and how, if it does, such a portent can be wound in corridors (of shells or anything else). And so on.”
The poet’s reply, which is included in the Library of America volume, has become a key document of poetic modernism. Crane admitted that he was “more interested in the so-called illogical impingements of the connotations of words on the consciousness . . . than I am interested in the preservation of their logically rigid significations.” What Monroe saw as nonsense Crane insisted was a higher kind of sense. He wrote, “The nuances of feeling and observation in a poem may well call for certain liberties which you claim the poet has no right to take. I am simply making the claim that the poet does have that authority.”
The Mystic Word: The life and work of Hart Crane, Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, October 9, 2006