ABSTRACT. The following is a story of Hart Crane (Section I) and John Keats (Section II, next issue), in which we focus on the dramatic aspects surrounding the works and the lives, with special reference to the letters. It is as if Hart Crane (1899–1932) and John Keats (1795–1821), total strangers to each other, have through their letters initiated a complex agonal dialogue, whereby they unwittingly initiated an unmatched battle for supremacy: who of the two ends up composing the most stunning letters ever written in the English language? Both poets died very young (Keats: at 25; Crane: at 31) and tragically (Keats: mercury poisoning, possible saturnism, possible venereal disease, alcohol and opium abuse, depression, tuberculosis; Crane: depression, alcohol abuse, suicide); both reached during their lives a climax of creative power, but, had they lived to old age, they might have left behind more magnificent masterpieces. Through their works, they forged literary archetypal creative models, bringing literature to a new level of expression: 1) among Keats’s best poems in this sense are surely Hyperion: a fragment – which reveals new and unprecedented powers of poetic English language –, Ode to a Nightingale, which develops his Lethe mystique (already in the making in Fill for me a brimming Bowl), and Ode on a Grecian urn, which launches the idea that beauty and truth are two sides of the same coin; 2) among Crane’s best poems no doubt The Bridge is one – which offers an alternative to T. S. Eliot’s pessimistic Waste land poetics and thus reveals new unprecedented modes of poetic diction in English literature –, and The Broken Tower is another, which may be considered a poetic testament, a kind of poetic farewell note, that paradoxically is also a kind of “birth certificate” for the true American bard that Crane was just starting to turn into, a kind of bard that Keats no doubt would have awaited for, as we know that he had urged his brother George and his wife, Georgiana, to bring into the world the first American poet. The following research invites the reader to comparatively explore mainly the magnificent letters John Keats and Hart Crane wrote without necessarily being aware of the literary, philosophical and aesthetic value they were thus creating, in the larger context of a comparative discussion of the two poet’s dramatic lives and astonishing works, and with focus on the fact that the whole corpus of the letters of both poets represents a kind of master map showing the evolution of their creative genius and personal drama, the final letters containing elements that somehow predict their tragic premature end. Some of these letters sound, in retrospect, like farewell notes. If Keats’s final letters to his fiancée Fanny Brawne show us a poet that was deeply depressed, literally feeling in the maws of death, but stubbornly refusing to say a final good bye to his beloved – seemingly anticipating that the trip to Italy was to be the last one of his life –, and showing to her his desire of death, but resisting this temptation by a process of philosophizing that infinite pain is better than total vacuity; Hart Crane’s final letters and poems seem to anticipate the suicide as a tragic, but dignified resignation and admission of defeat in front of life’s too heavy burden. One conclusion emerges: both creators took life in all its complexity as the prime matter of their poetic quest with one major awareness: everything belonging to life, however painful or joyful, forges the soul, and everything belonging to the soul forges life – the meeting point between the two (life and soul) for them was the very process of poetic creation as verbal distillation of all physical, mental and spiritual experience, be that joyful or tragic. The “Joy of Grief” was thus their poetic Grail – the sublimated distillate which they dared sip out of Lethe’s “brimming Bowl.”

Keywords: letter correspondence; poet for poets; suicide; depression; farewell note; medical history; fourth dimension; Lethe mystique; higher consciousness.

Mihai A. Stroe
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University of Bucharest

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