But alcohol regained the upper hand. His grand design of writing an epic poem abut the Aztecs had resulted in a mere handful of verses, so he was coming home nearly empty-handed in late April, 1932. Although he was revered by the likes of Tennessee Williams and other prominent writers, he felt his career and personal life were failures. Worse, the poet’s homosexual demons could not be tamed, and he ventured down to the crew quarters and made a drunken sexual advance on a male worker, who reacted by beating him up. Somewhere north of Havana the next morning, April 27, a passenger watched in horror as the poet, dressed only in pajamas and an overcoat, walked purposefully to the ship's stern, mounted the railing, slipped the coat from his shoulders and then jumped overboard to his death.
The son of a successful Ohio businessman who made a fortune in candy manufacturing, Hart Crane (1899-1932) dropped out of high school in 1917 and fled to New York City. Hart had suffered a difficult home life under the roof of his parents, who were always fighting. They divorced a year after Crane moved to NYC. For seven years he moved back and forth between New York and Cleveland, all the while writing poems that gained publication in literary journals. His menial jobs as a copywriter in NYC were interspersed with periods of working in his father's candy factories in Cleveland.
Although tormented by his attraction to men, his affair with Emil Opffer, a Danish merchant marine, is reflected in Crane was tortured by his love for men far worse than Walt Whitman decades before him. He did have one felicitous affair with a Danish merchant marine named Emil Opffer, who inspired his epic poem titled Voyages*, a highlight of his first book, White Buildings (1926). Opffer, whom he had met in 1924, lived in Brooklyn, but Crane also had an affair with the internationally famous Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior, who was then singing at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan.
Publication of The Bridge in 1930 brought Crane notoriety and fame, but he seemed unable to live up to his own standard after that. At the time of his death in 1932, much of his verse was dismissed as incoherent. It was not until 50 years later that his works were reassessed and became part of a contemporary curriculum taught in colleges and universities. The Bridge now appears in its entirety in the Norton Anthology of American Literature.
Thomas E. Yingling wrote Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text (1992), which saw that Crane’s authority rested on his position as an outsider, whose writings were not only expressions of his personal psychological division, but also eloquent records of cultural and social divisions.
*Voyages (1924) is a poetic sequence in praise of the transforming power of love. The work's metaphor is the sea, and its movement is from the lover's dedication to a human and changeable lover to a beloved beyond time and change. The sea represents love in all its shifting complexity from calm to storm, and love, in turn, serves as the salvation of us all:
Bind us in time, O Season clear, and awe.
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal's wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.
With its dazzling poeticism and mysteriously inspiring perspective, Voyages is often hailed as Crane's greatest achievement. R. W. B. Lewis called it Crane's lyrical masterpiece.