Langdon Hammer on "Episode of Hands"

… We can get a fuller sense of [Crane’s] inclusive ideal by turning to "Episode of Hands" -- a poem, written in 1920, that recounts Crane’s attention to a worker injured in a factory owned by his father. We know from letters that the poem is unusually close to a fecord of Crane’s lived experience, which is in keeping with Crane’s efforts here to surmount obstacles between literature and life, and between men of different classes. Initially, the one man’s attention to – or "interest" in – the other, and particularly a man of another class, causes the worker some additional pain:

The unexpected interest made him flush. Suddenly he seemed to forget the pain, – Consented, – and held out One finger from the others.

Hands and eyes are the parts of the body that fashion bonds in Crane’s poetry, and the marks that they frequently bear testify to the extreme difficulty of this task. … Here, in an instant of forgetting and consent, one pair of hands dresses the wound of the other, a pastoral vision supplants the workplace (as sunlight glitters "in and out among the wheels"), and the two men pause, bound together in one gaze:

And factory sounds and factory thoughts Were banished from him by that larger, quieter hand That lay in his with the sun upon it. And as the bandage knot was tightened The two men smiled into each other’s eyes.

The repetition of the simple conjunction "and," in contrast to the usually disjunctive and compressed syntax of Crane’s verse, announces a new experience of continuity, and permits (as the same use of language does in "My Grandmother’s Love Letters") a lucid expression of private feeling. As it is exemplified by the shared pronoun "he" (in these lines, "his" hand is the hand of the "factory owner’s son"), the bond ("the bandage knot") that is established is erotic and fraternal at once; and the smile connecting each pair of eyes to the other (a smile that is the expressive sign of covenant in all of Crane’s poetry) recognizes a unity of feeling or assent overcoming the class distinctions of the workplace, figured as the wound that is incurred there. Note too that the class barrier that must be overcome derives in this case from the son’s bond to the father, the capitalist. It is not that the one man has been elevated to the other’s place, or that the owner’s son has joined ranks with the workers; rather, the two men have met as brothers (members of one generation) in a place apart.

From Langdon Hammer, Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism (Princeton: Princeton U P, 1993) 130-31.

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