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AlbertJayNock

"Voyages" by Hart Crane


I've been thinking about Hart Crane's poem Voyages lately. Hart Crane had a very sad life, committing suicide at the age of 32. So it's no surprise that he was so good at evoking melancholy with his poetry.

I was reminded of it back in October when Ben Stein quoted it in his diary entry for that month. He thought of it when he saw some kids playing on the beach. When a poem evokes images of real life, it's a pretty good poem. When an image of real life evokes the poem, it's an extremely powerful poem. (BTW, the entry is quite a fine piece of writing, one I wish I had written. I meant to praise it here at the time, but didn't get around to it. I'm very happy to correct that omission now.)

What made me think about it more deeply was a former student of mine (let's call him Bruce) who was recently charged with a very serious crime, and is suspected of worse. I don't want to go into detail about who he is, or what the crime was. But I will say he always struck me as quite the straight arrow (almost a stereotype now.) His neighbors also seemed to think well of him, and one of them remarked about seeing him play outside with his dog...an idyllic vision. The remark about the dog brought to mind the following lines :

O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog,   
Fondle your shells and sticks, bleached
By time and the elements; but there is a line   
You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it   
Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses   
Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast.   
The bottom of the sea is cruel.


The entire poem is a love poem, but this passage makes me think about how easy it is to be unaware of the dangers and evils in the world when you are young. Sometimes it is evil from without. In the case of Bruce, it was  evil within. In either case, kids playing can be a poignant image. It's been used, always effectively, since Crane wrote Voyages in such diverse popular songs as Fields of Gold, Have You Seen Her, and Black.

It's poignant because you know how cruel the bottom of the sea is, and you are pretty sure that they don't. And you never know if you want to tell them about it.




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