It seems John Latta, in his Hart Crane post of today, is providing an illustration for the concepts I've been pondering here lately : the poet/seer & Beauty's dislocation...

JL is sharp to point out how Crane muddles & roughens up his own acute (prose) notations as he turns them into poetry...

but I have a different take on this, and I think "The Idiot" is a better poem than John suggests (Crane's complaints aside). The juxtaposition of the prose and the poem serve to point up the difference between prose and poems; and it's not just a stylistic difference. The essential difference illustrated here is between prose, as anecdote or reportage, and a poem as both song and symbolic representation.

I read this poem as a kind of parable : the poet-speaker actually identifies with the idiot boy, who scans the heavens through his tin can and sings his wacky Dio gracias tune. The "song" of the poem essentially seals this identification, asserting a kind of harmonic relation or hidden unity among things or events (subjective, objective) which are (on the surface) jarring, absurd or pathetic. "The Idiot" is an artifact of Crane's laborious effort to "sing his own song" : ie., Crane forges an initial anecdote into the pattern of his typical style/tone/voice/theme, the unified substance of his work as a whole. Look at how that "late" (for Crane) poem mirrors this earlier one :


We will make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

Note how, in "The Idiot", Crane has "faced [or re-faced] the dull squint" with the idiot's "squint lanterns". He has echoed the moonlight/ashcan with the tin can/telescope. The humorous/perilous social role outlined for the poet in "Chaplinesque" still holds in "The Idiot".

JL laments the loss of Crane's initial clear reportage in the process of composition; but (unlike most 20th-cent. poets) he's not writing prose. Not only is he not writing prose; he's making a peculiar song which asserts the fundamental difference between the poet and everything "prosaic". The distinction is epitomized in an old Ojibwa term : dream song.

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