Skip to main content

… [T]he "stallion glow" of the stars does not refer to an object or an event in the world; the stars have an aura of earthly pleasures, the "glow" of them, but only that. The senses restored to Crane’s singer have been detached from any possible natural context, and then reorganized – projected upward – according to linguistic principles such as rhyme, meter, and alliteration.

This practice produces the "disorganization of the senses" for which Crane’s work is notorious, an effect his critics have attributed to influences as different as Rimbaud and alcoholism. Whatever causes one wants to ascribe, synesthesia in Crane’s work points toward a mechanical, not an organic, totality, a totality arrived at by submitting experience to the fragmenting strictures of abstract form (passing "through the eye"). The satisfactions of the senses I spoke of above can only be poetic, which is to say linguistic, satisfactions; and they constitute the triumph of one kind of sense – one kind of order – at the expense of another. In the eighth stanza of "Atlantis," the "stitch and stallion glow" of the stars is a harnessing of the masculine eros in Crane’s poem that functions on at least two levels. In its translation from earth to the stars, the "stallion glow" achieves permanent ("indubitable") form by a process analogous to the way in which the phrase itself has been made. Crane has removed it from natural reference ("stallion" as slang for a desiring and desirable man) and inserted it in the linguistic order of the text ("stallion" as an alliterative predicate of :stars"). The word signifies – it is not mere sound – but Crane’s "counter-world" is as remote from the human world as the stars are from earth.

To constellate words in this way is a bravura, Marlovian act – the very definition of "the high style." The energy of that linguistic act is deployed in the service of tropes that fragment and reorganize the mimesis of sexual acts, in such a way as to interpret poetic composition as itself an ascetic act of self-binding or, to use Crane’s trope, "beating." The "steeled" structure of the bridge is brought into being by a sacrifice of conventional mimesis identified in this case with a sacrifice of the body, producing a specifically masochistic mode of transport. Crane’s intimate address of the bridge in the eighth stanza – "Thou," "Thou," Thou," "Thou" – reverberates "with sound of doom" because the object of the quest (the bridge) becomes a subject when, as his senses are stripped away (that is, ‘shed"), the subject of the quest (the poet-quester) becomes an object. The bridge gains subjectivity by way of a process that objectifies the poet.