Melvin E. Lyon: On "The Mango Tree"

Hart Crane mentions "The Mango Tree" in two letters written on May 22, 1926. In one he says, "I have just written a little unconscious callegramme on the mango tree. . . ." ; in the other, "I'm convinced that the Mango tree was the original Eden apple tree, being the first tree mentioned in history with any accuracy of denomination." As the first letter suggests, the poem does assume the form of a tree on the page. The passage in the second letter provides the key that unlocks the prose sense of the poem. In the first paragraph the narrator addresses the tree and tells it not to be unhappy that people returning to it demean it by claiming that their return makes it ashamed again of Eve's having plucked its fruit. After all, he implies, they return to do the same thing. He reassures the tree by saying (paradoxically, since Christmas, in orthodox terms, marked the beginning of fallen man's redemption from the Fall) that this return is like Christmas: it is a time of beginning again, a time of gifts, indeed, of the greatest of all gifts, the gift of love, the forbidden fruit itself.

In paragraph 2 there is another paradox: the speaker sees the tree as the source of Paradise rather than of its destruction, because in his view "Paradise" was not a state before the Fall but after, when man knew love. Such knowledge signified man's arrival at maturity, his discarding of his childhood (and therefore of "chewing-gum") : He tells the tree that it was first made use of ("yoked") by spiders ("gay" because they were enjoying Paradise) weaving their webs, "a musical hanging," associating harmony with love, which here is viewed as physical love ("jug . . . jug" is the Elizabethan euphemism used also by Eliot: "jug, jug to dirty ears"). The spiders' webs are seen as having turned the shadows of the tree to silk, which the speaker says make good underpants for owls, traditional symbol for wisdom. Silken underpants for wisdom suggests a (desirable) awakening of Wisdom's sexual parts.

In paragraph 3 the speaker says that the tree was first plucked by Eve; then, when God tried to start over again, after the Flood, it was plucked once more. Its golden boughs (alluding to the Aeneid—and/or to Frazer?)—signifying the love (gold symbolized love to Crane) and immortality which the tree offers—have been distorted by old ideas that often have hypnotized men into mistakenly believing it an evil tree. Actually its leaves bring "dawn," light, love (the tree's fruit). He sees these leaves surrounding the fruit as being like green "sprockets" which engage the clouds and make them revolve around the fruit: love makes the world go round. The last sentence of the paragraph refers back to the ideas which twist the tree's offer of love and immortality.

Two kinds of people threaten the tree and the love it proffers: satiated (and therefore "fat") eaters of the fruit, who have reformed and become prophets of doom ("final prophets"), and ascetic ("lean") non-eaters of the fruit. whose asceticism has made them desirous of violently robbing mankind of the tree. Their existence makes darkness and death an immediate threat even in the utmost brightness of life and love ("your noon") offered by the tree. The association of the tree with light reaches its climax as the speaker calls it a "sun-heap"—an embodiment of the divine light and love which are the source of existence. Its forbidden fruit is seen as containing the guiding ("lantern") light—love—which has been the primary motive of human life and therefore the prime creator of history. This light is "recondite" because it is spiritual in origin and influence, "lightnings" because it is so powerful, "irised" because the light is multicolored like the rainbow and, like it, suggests a promise of life (though again, as in the case of Christmas and Paradise, the Biblical allusion is used with an anti- Biblical meaning).

In the final paragraph the speaker addresses the men and women of all nationalities who are returning to the tree with baskets to collect this divine fruit and then suddenly breaks off to tell his girl friend to "come on" to the tree with him so that they get their share of love.

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Title Melvin E. Lyon: On "The Mango Tree" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Melvin E. Lyon Criticism Target Hart Crane
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 30 Jun 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Crane's 'The Mango Tree'
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