We’re in the “living labyrinth” of Harold Bloom’s astonishing memory here.
The great sage of New Haven is walking us through the dark, dense maze of his first and favorite poet, Hart Crane (1899 – 1932).
Take this as a sort of companion piece to go with Helen Vendler’s reflections on her own “closest poet,” Wallace Stevens.
There’s a preview, too, of Harold Bloom’s next big book, coming in Spring, 2010, just before his 80th birthday. Living Labyrinth: Literature and Influence will reconsider his famous grand argument in The Anxiety of Influence (1973) about poets and their precursors.
But the joy of this conversation for me is the generous, melting demonstration of Bloom’s theory and his method — tracing (with never a glance at text or note) the spidery links from Crane’s words and images back to Melville, Yeats, Milton, Spenser, Walter Pater, and The Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible; with real-life anecdotes thrown in touching Hart Crane’s friend the photographer Walker Evans, and his devotee the playwright Tennessee Williams. By the end of Harold Bloom’s living-room performance, one of Hart Crane’s most famous pieces, “The Broken Tower” makes a kind of music — madly, deeply in tune with Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco.” Listen for Professor Bloom’s laughing indulgence when I tell him that, of course, Harold, the living labyrinth is you! “A nice trope, my boy.”
Here, for before and after readings, is what Bloom calls Crane’s “death poem”:
The Broken Tower
The bell-rope that gathers God at dawn
Dispatches me as though I dropped down the knell
Of a spent day – to wander the cathedral lawn
From pit to crucifix, feet chill on steps from hell.
Have you not heard, have you not seen that corps
Of shadows in the tower, whose shoulders sway
Antiphonal carillons launched before
The stars are caught and hived in the sun’s ray?
The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;
And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave
Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score
Of broken intervals… And I, their sexton slave!
Oval encyclicals in canyons heaping
The impasse high with choir. Banked voices slain!
Pagodas campaniles with reveilles out leaping-
O terraced echoes prostrate on the plain!…
And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
My word I poured. But was it cognate, scored
Of that tribunal monarch of the air
Whose thighs embronzes earth, strikes crystal Word
In wounds pledges once to hope – cleft to despair?
The steep encroachments of my blood left me
No answer (could blood hold such a lofty tower
As flings the question true?) -or is it she
Whose sweet mortality stirs latent power?-
And through whose pulse I hear, counting the strokes
My veins recall and add, revived and sure
The angelus of wars my chest evokes:
What I hold healed, original now, and pure…
And builds, within, a tower that is not stone
(Not stone can jacket heaven) – but slip
Of pebbles, – visible wings of silence sown
In azure circles, widening as they dip
The matrix of the heart, lift down the eyes
That shrines the quiet lake and swells a tower…
The commodious, tall decorum of that sky
Unseals her earth, and lifts love in its shower.