Written by Hart Crane earlier in the year of his death, and rejected by Poetry, The Broken Tower was printed in the New Republic soon after his suicide on April 27, 1932. Why did Hart Crane jump into the Gulf of Mexico on his voyage back to New York after a year’s sabbatical in Mexico that been full of terrific ups and downs fueled by too much alcohol? He had been beaten up the night before by a sailor he had propositioned; he was horribly hungover; his lady companion, Peggy Cowley, who was divorcing her husband, Malcolm, and trying to make Hart straight, or give him a change of scenery anyway, had just burned her hand on a book of matches, and was in no mood to console her wavering lover. Did Hart jump for the drama, knowing he would be pulled back on deck in a minute? Or was he dead serious? Tennessee Williams always thought that Crane was eaten by sharks because he disappeared so quickly after he jumped. The Broken Tower remains.
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 thigh embronzes earth, strikes crystal Word
In wounds pledged 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 eye
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.