Silent Answers Crept Across The Stars

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Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)

My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

Emily Dickinson

At Melville’s Tomb

by Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides … High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.



Hart Crane committed suicide by jumping off a boat sailing from Mexico City to New York City, his depression finally overwhelming during a prolonged period of writer’s block. Marsden had been with him in Mexico City and grieved his loss by painting an image filled with symbolism of Crane’s life and poetry.

Hart Crane was not related to Stephen Crane.  Stephen died even younger at age 28 from tuberculosis and by way of hard and happier living. I am not a big fan of Stephen Crane’s parable poems. However, I think if Hart had been able to take more of Stephen’s perspective in dealing with his demons, he might have found a way through his darkest of days and not become a “shadow that one the sea keeps.”

Do you think Hart Crane’s sonnet foreshadow’s his death or was thoughts of suicide part of his subconscious mind, shaping his words as he wrote?

A Man Went Before A Strange God

by Stephen Crane (1871 – 1900)

A man went before a strange God —
The God of many men, sadly wise.
And the deity thundered loudly,
Fat with rage, and puffing.
“Kneel, mortal, and cringe
And grovel and do homage
To My Particularly Sublime Majesty.”

The man fled.

Then the man went to another God —
The God of his inner thoughts.
And this one looked at him
With soft eyes
Lit with infinite comprehension,
And said, “My poor child!”

Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant

Hart Crane
Hart Crane (1899 – 1932)

Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant

By Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —


One of the pleasures of rhyming poems for the writer and reader alike is that they lend themselves to riddles. I can speak from experience that sometimes the riddles come from deep within the subconscious and aren’t always planned, rather the words feel right and only later release their hidden meanings. Emily Dickinson is a master riddler and given that she never published any of her poetry, she saved her best laughs for herself.

Hart Crane wrote his sonnet that isn’t a sonnet in 1924 when Emily Dickinson was not omnipresent in bookstores and not yet in the pantheon of poets. Some of her poems and correspondence had been published but she had yet to have the kind of impact on modernists and the general public that she has today. To read a much weightier interpretation of Hart Crane’s sonnet below, try Alan Tate’s essay on the subject, he was both a talented poet and a good friend, who took up the cause of heightening the reputation of Hart Crane after his untimely death.

At first glance To Emily Dickinson is a sonnet, but it does not fit a traditional rhyming scheme.  It was written while Hart was having a torrid homosexual love affair with a sailor named Emil Oppfer.  To those of us that like to see riddles, it could be argued there are several hidden clues that this poem is written both to Emily and Emil the first being the similarity of their names. Crane’s romance didn’t last as it seems that his lover lacked the intellectual curiosity and capacity to stimulate Crane’s pursuit of a poetic ideal and their affair dwindled quickly.

Some critics have interpreted the cities of Ormuz and Ophir as another clue that Crane wrote this poem as much to Emil as Emily, as Ophir and Oppfer are perfect homonyms. The city of Ormuz, also known as Hormuz, was part of one of the most important diplomatic missions of the Portuguese empire. Afonso de Alburqurque sent a trove of ruby adorned treasures to Shah Ismail in 1510 to win favor and begin a mutually beneficial partnership. Ophir is a city mentioned in the old Testament multiple times, known for its wealth, gold and wisdom, the implication that it is through wise choices that wealth is attained.

What is Crane saying in the final six lines, traditionally the volta?   It makes more sense in my mind if he is writing it to Emil. Is the flower in Crane’s hand, for his lover, their affair not yet over? The inevitability of its ending plain before him, as he cannot connect to his lover’s remotest mind, and it leaves their relationship cold and penniless without his need for an intellectual bond, leaving nothing left but the crying.  However, the lines also have meaning for Emily, whose work is just coming to light at that time, her flower not yet wilted, and whose solitary mission as a writer was for her benefit, no one else’s. Another poet would ask the question, if her poetry had never come to light, would we be left colder and a treasure lost?

Regardless of who Crane wrote this poem, it’s beautiful, the opening eight lines packed with meaning of what it is to be passionate about another person, about love, about art, about life!  The lines are also insight into Crane’s tortured soul,  his ideas about the role of poetry as a silencer of anxiety, the process of writing meant foremost to enhance the life of the writer, not for financial gain but for the writer’s spiritual or intellectual gain and through their words, leave a trace of their humanity for obscurity of eternity, all depending on the whim of a publisher and fate.

To Emily Dickinson

by Hart Crane

You who desired so much–in vain to ask–
Yet fed you hunger like an endless task,
Dared dignify the labor, bless the quest–
Achieved that stillness ultimately best,

Being, of all, least sought for: Emily, hear!
O sweet, dead Silencer, most suddenly clear
When singing that Eternity possessed
And plundered momently in every breast;

–Truly no flower yet withers in your hand.
The harvest you descried and understand
Needs more than wit to gather, love to bind.
Some reconcilement of remotest mind–

Leaves Ormus rubyless, and Ophir chill.
Else tears heap all within one clay-cold hill

The Parable of Snow


The Parable of Snow

by Doug Ramspeck

The mean boys believe in an augury of falling snow,
how it drifts from the shadows of the sky,
burying the land. And what they feel for the ones
they brutalize is a kind of plaintive sorrow,
the way a stream accepts the ice of its own body.
Once I saw one sucking a bloodied knuckle like a succulent
morsel of fruit, saw him leaning against the chain-link
fence and closing his eyes into what appeared, in that instant,
like the suturing of two incisions. The mean boys
are as lonely as a breath struggling to form a cloud
that will not hold, as lonely as the hoof prints of the horses
past my father’s barn, where he walks this morning
like the mean boy he surely was when he was young. 


Copyright 2018 University of Tampa Press.  Project Muse.



Am I alone in finding that poems often take up residence in my mind, whether for a short time or a long time, because of one word?  In the case of Doug Ramspeck’s poem The Parable of Snow, the word for me was – augury.   A word that we have let lapse from our common vocabulary as society has become more secular and we have allowed technology to replace nature as the primary source of wonder in our eyes.

The Parable of Snow is not a sonnet. I am realizing this blog is going to wear me out if I don’t loosen up the reigns a bit and follow the trail of curiosity that brought me to this trail head in the first place. The writing of this blog has taken a toll on my own writing.  I will eventually need to take a break from it if I am to find the energy to write my own poetry with any frequency again.  For now, there is something almost spiritual about pursuing sonnets deeply, beyond the first layer, beyond the second layer, getting to down to the bones and tendons of an idea and letting it ruminate for longer than is possibly even healthy.  It is like I am pursing a master’s degree in literature on-line of my own volition and without the rules and structure of graduate school. This freedom is both more liberal and more restrictive as the bonds of responsibility to the task are all of my own creation.  Isn’t that what all obsessions have in common in the end, a fascination that borders on malignancy?

The process of uncovering sonnets that are candidates for the blog, can at times feel like an excursion into ancient history, an endless campaign of reaching back in time.  It can be a pleasant distraction, but it has also begun to feel after only 6 months like I am intentionally disconnecting from the present.  It’s why I am feeling the need to start to broaden the inclusion of poems that may not meet the rhyming requirements of a strict definition of a sonnet or maybe not even the structure of a sonnet, but are poems that feel relevant in some way to my current thoughts and daily sojourns and forays.

I do not want to taint the artistry of Ramspeck’s poem by attaching to it any specific headline.  Any one can pick up any newspaper and find the ravaging’s of mean boys in print.  I don’t believe that brutality is genetic. I don’t believe it is a natural manifestation of mental illness, poverty, drug use or depression.  There are plenty of people whose response to adversity or even cruelty is to become gentler and more introspective.   How do “mean boys” become mean?   Why do we elect or promote “mean boys” into positions of power in business and government?  What does our current governments say about the electorate at large, not only here in the United States but around the world? Are despots the manifestation of their own identity or a reflection of the society that allowed them the power to become a despot in the first place?  Are democratic despots, our current despot in chief a prime example, more corrupt than some local strongman turned marauder, as they are the very epitome of corruptness of the entire political machinery that allowed them to ascend to the very height of government? Our current President is the biggest bully on the block, twitter his megaphone, hammer and anvil.  His critics and defenders are both quick to rise to the challenge of bullying right back to prove the correctness of their position, all sides forgetting that the softness voice in the room often carries the argument upon reflection.

If meanness is a learned behavior, can it be unlearned? These are the questions I ask myself in the aftermath of another mass shooting another lurid headline of unreasonableness.  If the answer is that violence and war are part of our nature and guns an unassailable reality of American culture, then their is no solution to this problem, other than to hope that those of us that choose to live our lives without weapons evade the randomness of what the mean boys have in store to keep themselves entertained or to write their final epitaph in blood.

What Have You In Your Heart



A Shropshire Lad: XXXII

By A. E. Housman

From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.

Now—for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart—
Take my hand quick and tell me
What have you in your heart.

Speak now, and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.


Whew! It’s March and a burst of spring sunshine today betrayed the nearly foot of fresh snow of the past week, melting it rapidly.  March is the month of muddy foot prints on kitchen floors in Minnesota. The earth comes out of its frozen slumber wet and slimy, attaching itself to everything with which it comes into contact,  reminding us that the ubiquitous stubbornness of clay and organic matter is the very stuff from which new life springs. The beauty of spring flowers doesn’t come from April showers, it comes from the black muck that holds the nutrients that feed beauty.

It’s time to move on into more playful fare in this blog. I used the month of February to stray into history and politics, probably wearing everyone out,  temporarily avoiding the true reason for starting this blog; the exploration of poetry as a mirror by which love is reflected.  Love is a complicated thing.  I’m lucky.  I have had good role models for love my entire life, by those around me and those that have been gracious enough to love me.  I hope love continues to teach this old dog a few more new tricks.