The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

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.


From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World, in which Robert Pinsky describes the exchange of letters between Hart Crane and Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry magazine (and a rival of Margaret Anderson and The Little Review, which published him without protesting that his phrases were lacking in meaning). Monroe, explains Pinsky, "had questioned some of his phrases as illogical or impossible...[Crane] argues for the idea that not everything needs to be explained or explicable."

In his letter Crane "proposes that bones, eroded to dice by the sea, might be washed up in fragments as an embassy -- mute representations of those nameless dead. He discusses the spiral calyx or cornucopia of the whirlpool left by a sinking ship, where parts of the wreckage appear as a sad bounty or hieroglyph. His careful sentences are studded with half-despairing asides reasserting that there are plenty of other overtones, undertones and implications that he is leaving out." Pinsky finds it "both sad and funny that the poem's subject is the way that important meanings -- such as those in the art of Herman Melville -- often come in remnants, shadows, extraordinary depths of intuition." He also finds the poem lucid: "In Crane's somberly ornamented tribute to his predecessor, Melville, human instruments of perception are effective but doomed by their limitations. The lifted eyes of religion, the sextant of navigation, Melville's genius: All are ways toward knowledge that contrive or discover meanings, despite their mortal limitations. In a word, they are tragic."

I've posted these pictures before, when I took them in 2004, but they were so appropriate with the poem that I decided to post them again. This is the Seamen's Bethel in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Melville first heard stories about whaling from sailors staying at the nearby Mariner's Home.

Melville worshipped in the last pew on the first floor. When John Huston filmed Moby Dick, the movie showed a pulpit in the shape of a ship's prow, and the church was subsequently altered to incorporate that dramatic image.

Have survived Rosh Hashanah services. I must admit that spending this much time in this particular synagogue has precisely the opposite effect that I suspect it's supposed to: instead of feeling more pious I feel more distant and aggravated than ever. It's a good thing I don't believe in the God who doesn't inscribe people in the Book of Life for such heresy. The only moments I was at all moved were during the singing of "L'chi Lach" which has more to do with Debbie Friedman's beautiful melody than the idea that God promised to make a great nation of Abraham, which I don't believe, and during the Mourner's Kaddish, which has been said so many times in Jewish history on so many tragic occasions, including my own grandparents' funerals, that I can't help but be affected by it. As usual, the lobby was mobbed (and I got in trouble with an usher for typing on my PDA -- not because it is never allowed in the lobby which it usually is, but because it was YOM TOV when apparently the appropriate thing to do is what the women smushed in behind me were doing, namely insulting other women's dresses). I so do not connect to the Abraham and Isaac story -- can never decide who comes off worse, Abraham or God -- and although the sermon at the family service is always a story enacted by all the rabbis and cantors who are entertaining hams, it's all kind of distant...could be a public television Rosh Hashanah special.

However, I did have a very nice brunch with my parents who apparently have decided to drop the subject of where we should all go on vacation for my mother's birthday next spring...apparently my mother and father have somewhat different ideas about what she would like. (Father: *names Caribbean resort* Mother: *looks at him quizzically*) Heh. So instead we talked about the Boston Legal season premiere, new construction in Bethesda which has resulted in the closing of the excellent card store where we used to go kill time between brunch and services, and the truly superior food of the Original Pancake House, which was very crowded between the holiday and weekend crowds but where I had my once-a-year eggs benedict with turkey sausage and the kids had chocolate chip pancakes and apple cinnamon waffles respectively while husband had a veggie omelette and parents had crepes. Good food is a spiritual experience for me...I wish the same could be said for exercise, which only does anything for me when it's hiking the Blue Ridge or swimming in the Atlantic!

The icon is the fault of muccamukk, who declared, "Sheppard is totally sleeping with everyone in the whole entire City. He's like the Aragorn of Atlantis." Which made me laugh for a good two minutes. Am somewhat traumatized about the four-legged chicken -- how close is Somerset to Three Mile Island? Am posting early because we are going, weather permitting, to the Maryland Renaissance Festival -- whee! sparowe, I will be looking for you! And Brotherhood season finale -- waah, but also yay!

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