And saw thee dive to kiss that destiny
Like one white meteor, sacrosanct and blent
At last with all that’s consummate and free
There, where the first and last gods keep thy tent.Hart Crane, “The Dance,” part of The Bridge (1930), in Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 47
H. P. Lovecraft did not rub shoulders with Ernest Hemingway in Key West; did not correspond with F. Scott Fitzgerald or Gertrude Stein. If he argued with Henry Miller over a bookstall in Brooklyn, or sipped coffee in an automat across from Dorothy Parker, we have no record of it. Lovecraft’s brushes with the famous literary names of his day were few and brief, and the most notable of these encounters was with the gay poet Hart Crane.
On 21 July 1899, Grace Edna Hart Crane gave birth to Harold Hart Crane, her only child. Her husband was Clarence A. Crane, a successful businessman. Their relationship was rocky, and ended with divorce in 1917, the young Hart Crane living with his mother in Cleveland. The circumstances of Hart Crane’s life at this point offer some superficial similarities with Lovecraft’s own: both young men lived with mothers who suffered nervous breakdowns, both were unprepared for college and largely autodidacts who read voluminously; poetry and literature were overwhelming passions, and money was a pressing concern. However, the similarities break down in detail. By age 18, Crane had already attempted suicide and had his first homosexual experience; his father was alive, and if Crane didn’t always get along with him, they had a relationship; and while Crane struggled to hold a steady job he did try everything from working in a munitions plant during the Great War to writing copy for an advertising agency to working for his father’s candy business.
Samuel Loveman, the amateur journalist, poet, and bookman, recalled meeting Crane in Cleveland in 1919, shortly after Loveman had been discharged from the army (Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 315). Loveman and Crane became friends, bonding with their mutual love of books and poetry (they were also both gay, though there is no indication they were ever lovers). Despite Prohibition, Crane had begun to drink, and alcohol and conversation flowed easily in the literary and artistic crowd that he moved in.
Among his friends, there was a steady round of parties. Every time one of the Cleveland artists or writers had a visitor, the entire group was called together. One such visitor was the poet James Daly, a friend of Charles Harris’s, and another was H. P. Lovecraft, the writer of horror stories and weird tales, who came to see Sam Loveman and Alfred Galpin and who described for this aunts in Providence, Rhode Island, the Loveman-Crane-Sommer-Lescaze circleVoyager: A Life of Hart Crane 256
Cleveland, August 1922
H. P. Lovecraft had encountered Samuel Loveman’s poetry in amateur journals c.1915, and in 1917 he wrote to Loveman, coaxing him back into amateur journalism and beginning a correspondence—despite the fact that Loveman was Jewish and Lovecraft antisemitic, the two became good friends. Loveman and Lovecraft finally met in New York City in 1922, as guests of Sonia H. Greene, who hoped that Lovecraft’s encounters with them both would disprove his antisemitic notions (The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985)). It didn’t work, but they all became fast friends, and in 1922 Loveman invited Lovecraft to Cleveland. Lovecraft’s letters to his aunt detail the trip, although his mention of Hart Crane is brief:
We held a meeting here of all the members of Loveman’s literary circle, at which the conversation covered every branch fo aesthetics. […] I met some new figures—Crane the poet, Lazar[e], an ambitious literary student now in the army, & a delightful young fellow named Carroll Lawrence […]
Tonight Galpin, Crane, I, & a fellow I have not yet met are going to a concert held in the art museum building. Great days!!H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 9 Aug 1922, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.54, 55
This was probably a program at the Cleveland Museum of Art, possibly under the direction of Ernest Bloch of the Cleveland Institute of Music, whom Hart Crane mentions in several letters (cf. Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 392-393). Lovecraft did not go into detail about the crowd he was hanging out with to his aunt, but in a later letter he particularly recalled:
Mention of S. L. reminds me of this Hatfield person. To be sure, I recall him! Dear, dear! how he used to sit cross-legged on the floor at Eglin’s, little white sailor’s cap tucked gracefully under one arm, sport shirt open at the neck, gazing soulfully up at Samuelus and discoursing of the arts and harmonies of life! I’m afraid he thought me a very crude, stupid, commonplace, masculine sort of persons—and am indeed surprised that he recalled me! Hatfield and Crane were mortal enemies, and it use to be amusing to watch them when they met by accident, each trying to humiliate the other by veiled thrusts and conversational subtleties hardly intelligible to an uninitiated third person. And so he has hit the big town! Here’s hoping it will be kind to him, and not crush his flower-like delicacy!H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 8 Jan 1924, Selected Letters 1.281-282
Eglin’s was a Cleveland bookstore where Samuel Loveman (“S.L.” above) was employed; Gordon Hatfield was a minor composer and, apparently openly homosexual or possibly displayed “camp” mannerisms. In another letter, Lovecraft was less discreet:
Have you seen that precious sissy Gordon Hatfield, that I met in Cleveland? [Frank] Belknap [Long] says he’s hit the big town, U that he’s had some conversation with him. When I saw that marcelled what is it I didn’t know whether to kiss it or kill it! I t used to sit cross-legged on the floor at Elgin’s & gaze soulfully upward at Loveman. It didn’t like me & Galpin—we was too horrid, rough & mannish for it!H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 8 Jan 1924, Letters to James F. Morton 63
How much Crane disliked Hatfield is unclear; Crane’s letters barely mention Hatfield at all. However, Samuel Loveman weighed in on the subject during an interview:
But during that period there was a very rich young man whom I had known in Cleveland, alienated from his family and made much of by an aunt who lived in a cottage on the lot where they lived. […] His name was Gordon Hatfield. He was of the troiseme sex, but he absolutely never approached me and never referred to it. But I knew what was going on. […] Hart knew [Gordon Hatfield]. Hart disliked him, he disliked Hart. Because he didn’t like Hart’s action when he was drunk. Hart was boisterous, and since many of these people were like porcelain figures, Hart was like a bull in a china shop when he came there. He grabbed. There was no end to it. […] But Gordon liked me, liked my company because he sought it. He was completely different from Hart.“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 465-466
The contrast between Hart Crane and Gordon Hatfield led to an interesting comparison in Lovecraft’s account:
. . . . . Alfredus never spoke a harsh word to the creature, but I suppose he couldn’t conceal the contempt of an ultra-masculine personality for such attenuated exquisteness. Alfie, you know, has no nonsense about him, but is a gruff reg’lar feller with disordered hair, clothes likely to be out of press, and a brusqueness of gesture and expression which says more than harsh words . . . . On the whole, I think my Alfredus-grandchild can show contempt without words better than any other living mortal. Then too, Galpin unmistakable liked Crane—though acquainted in advance with the darkest side of his character—better than he did the sisters. Crane has at least the external appearance and actions of a man, and for that much Alfredus respected him. Crane didn’t like Alfredus, as that precocious child soon learnt through the mediation of Samuelus, but he was not so intolerable a spectacle as his mincing foes. On the whole, Alfie didn’t make much of a hit in Cleveland, because the gang there were affected and sissified to the last degree–sentimental, emotional, and given to absurd expressions of the arts they studied in the lives they led.H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Feb 1924, Selected Letters 1.291-292
“The darkest side of his character” and “at least the external appearance and actions of a man” is the only suggestion in all of Lovecraft’s correspondence that he might have been aware that Hart Crane was gay. Loveman himself confirmed Lovecraft’s perception of Crane’s demeanor, noting about Crane that “He prided himself on his appearance of masculinity” (Hart Crane: A Conversation with Samuel Loveman 21), and expanded on that in another interview:
[John Unterecker]: You told me also about his once telling you that he deliberately schooled himself to appear masculine.
SL: He told me once . . . Now, Hart was a very masculine person. He smoked cigars. He chewed tobacco—I thought an abominable vice, a filthy vice—and spat, and it was revolting. But had had a stride, a very masculine stride. So he told me that he deliberately, as you say, schooled himself to adopt this to avoid any feeling of resentment against him on the score of masculinity or non-masculinity. […] He could not tolerate feminine people.“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 402
Prejudices surrounding non-gender-conforming and non-heterosexuality in the 1920s were blatant and pervasive, and the distinction between feminine behavior and homosexuality was often blurred in public understanding. Lovecraft’s reaction was not uncommon, and violence was a perpetual threat that LGBTQ+ folks lived with. Whether Crane’s posture was a defensive one to protect himself from discrimination, or an aspect of his identity, in Lovecraft and Galpin’s case it seemed to work. Despite Hart Crane’s sexuality, Lovecraft appeared to have no difficulty interacting with him during their brief encounters, at least not on that score.
New York, 1924-1925
In March of 1923, Hart Crane left Cleveland and his mother to live in New York City. A year later in March 1924, H. P. Lovecraft moved from Providence, R. I. to New York to marry Sonia H. Greene and try his luck in the great metropolis. Lovecraft knew from Loveman’s letters that Crane was in New York (Letters to Maurice W. Moe and Others 498), but the two had no reason to seek each other out and apparently did not encounter one another. Another mutual friend, the bookseller George Kirk, moved from Cleveland to New York in August 1924. As Lovecraft reported to his aunt:
Most of Loveman’s friends, including George Kirk, Hart Crane, and Gordon Hatfield, are already in the metropolis; and he now means to follow—fortified by the virtual certainty of the literary success and recognition for which he has so long striven.H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 1 Aug 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.144
While literary success might not have been guaranteed, Loveman did soon arrive in New York (c. 8 Sep 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.156). Not long after Loveman got settled, Lovecraft took his friend to see the sights, which involved a great deal of tromping into the early hours of the morning. This was reported in the first of the few references to Lovecraft in Crane’s published letters:
I have just come back from a breakfast with Sam, and he has left to spend the rest of the day with the widow of Edgar Saltus (whom you must have heard him talk about enough to identify). I have been greeted so far mostly by his coat tails, so occupied has Sambo been with numerous friends of his here ever since arriving; Miss Sonia Green and her piping-voiced husband, Howard Lovecraft, (the man who visited Same in Cleveland one summer when Galpin was also there) kept Sam traipsing around the slums and wharf streets until four this morning looking for Colonial specimens of architecture, and until Sam tells me he groaned with fatigue and begged for the subway!Hart Crane to Grace Crane & Elizabeth Belden Hart, 14 Sep 1924, Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 396
Also published in: Letters of Hart Crane and His Family 342-343, The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 187, and Oh My Land My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane 195
There are no diary-like letters from Lovecraft during most of September 1924, but he alludes to this incident in a later letter, where Lovecraft encountered Crane again:
After dinner we walked down to the Brooklyn Heights section to call on his friend Hart Crane in Columbia Heights, with whom he had stopped till he moved up to Kirk’s in 106th St., Manhattan. […] We found Crane in & sober—but boasting over the two-day spree he had just slept off, during which he had been picked up dead drunk from the street in Greenwich Village by the eminent modernist poet E. E. Cummings—whom he knows well—& put in a homeward taxi. Poor Crane! I hope he’ll sober up with the years, for there’s really good stuff & a bit of genius in him. He is a genuine poet of a sort, & his excellent taste is reflected in the choice of objets d’art with which he has surrounded himself. I would give much for a certain Chinese ivory box of his, with panels exquisitely carved into delicate pastoral scenes in high relief—every detail of landscape & foliage standing out with that absolute beauty & amateurly assured perfection for which the best Chinese art is distinguished. After some conversation we all went out for a scenic walk through the ancient narrow hill streets that wind about the Brooklyn shore. There is a dark charm in the decaying waterfront, & the culmination of our tour was the poor old Fulton Ferry, which we reached about 9 o’clock, in the best season to enjoy the flaming arc of Brooklyn Bridge in conjunction with the constellation of Manhattan lights across the river, & the glimmering beacons of slow-moving shipping on the lapping tides. […] Thence we returned to Crane’s, threading more old streets, & incidentally looking up rooms for Loveman in Columbia Heights. […] I can’t, though—& I think I’ll get in touch with Crane and ask him about the smaller $5.00-per-wk. Rooms which he was likewise recommending to Samuelus.
Leaving Crane’s about 10:30,Samuelus & I proceeded to the subway, crossed the river, emerged at Wall St., & prepared to finish that nocturnal tour of colonial sights which his fatigue cut short last September.H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 4 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.190-191
The room was 110 Columbia Heights, in Brooklyn; the same room where, by coincidence, Washington Roebling had watched the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and where Crane would conceive and begin to write his modernist epic The Bridge. The drinking binge Crane supposedly bragged about is not attested in his letters, but there are many anecdotes of Crane’s drunken antics in memoirs and biographies.
The reference to the hunt for cheap rooms or apartments is also typical; in a letter to his mother dated 20 April 1924, Crane mentioned “What I pay here is about the lowest on record,—six dollars a week. The back room will cost 2 more, but that will be very reasonable.” (“Hart Crane and His Mother: A Correspondence” in Salmagundi #9 (Spring 1969), 85). In another letter, where separation with his wife was imminent and Lovecraft needed an apartment of his own while she was out-of-town, he remarked:
In that latter case, the neighbourhood of Brooklyn Heights—where Hart Crane lives, & which I shewed to A E P G—would appeal most strongly to me.H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 17 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.222
Loveman would, at various times, live in the same building in Columbia Heights as Crane and with Lovecraft at 169 Clinton Street. Hart Crane, writing home, would note wryly:
It’s amusing how Sam has finally got all his circle, including Kirk and Lovecraft, located over here now, right nearby. I really think he’s as happy as he ever will be, and he wants to be a little miserable, you know.Hart Crane to Grace Crane, 29 Jan 1925, Letters of Hart Crane and His Family 387
During this time in New York, Lovecraft met Crane at least a few more times. The exact number is a little unclear; Hart Crane’s letters of the period are not encyclopedic, and Lovecraft’s letters, for all that they were often detailed day-by-day entries to his aunts in Providence, still have a few gaps. However, Lovecraft’s 1925 diary lists two encounters, the first of which is:
 up noon–Tel. Mrs. Long Sonny call–GK call–RK call–SL with Keats Mask–Leeds–out for walk over bridge to Downing St–closed–Sheridan Sq–Crane–back to 169–Lamb meeting–Sonny lv.–all adjourn Scotch Bakery–SL lv. Disperse–write and retire (rest)Lovecraft 1925 Diary, Apr 1925, Collected Essays 5.157
There are two accounts of apocryphal meetings between Crane and Lovecraft. One is recounted by John Wilstach in “The Ten-Cent Ivory Tower” (1946), and is probably fictitious; the other is by Frank Belknap Long, Jr., which deserves consideration:
Loveman, Howard, and F. B. L. dropping in at a cafeteria on Seventh Avenue for coffee and doughnuts, a rather stocky figure arising from a table near the door.
“Howard, how are you? Sam didn’t tell me you were in New York!”
“Good evening, Hart.”
That tied it! I had never met Hart Crane, but that afternoon, at the library, Sam had showed me one of his poems in manuscript.
Howard had never seemed more depressed—he was writing such lines as these: “My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration I found only a sense of horror and oppression. Instead of the poems I had hoped for there came only a shuddering blankness and ineffable loneliness.”
His pallor and emaciation that night were alarming, and as he shook hands with Crane a line from the poem I had read at the library (I remembered Sam’s words as he handed me the poem–“Here’s something by Hart. You’ve never seen his stuff, have you?”)—a line from the poem flashed across my mind: “And when they’ve dragged your weary flesh through Baltimore—did you betray the ticket, Poe?”
It strains coincidence, but it happened, it happened—and I’m setting it down for the record because it sems somehow tremendously significant. That line actually crossed my mind, and at the time I thought: “No greater single line was ever written about Poe?”
Now consider this. I never saw Crane again, and neither did Howard. (Howard had met Crane briefly in Cleveland two years previously.) Both men were completely unknown at the time. Both now seem destined to have a place in American letters. Samuel Loveman, who was present at that meeting, knew Bierce, knew George Sterling (21 Letters of Ambrose Bierce: Published by George Kirk, circa 1927—a voluminous correspondence with Sterling, with whom I had also corresponded). Crane was a boyhood friend of Loveman’s. Crane professed to admire Poe above all other figures in American literature. Upon Howard’s shoulders the mantle of Poe had indubitably descended. The inner circle of his friends sensed it even then. […]Frank Belknap Long, “Some Random Memories of H. P. L.” (1944) in Marginalia 334-335
The situation is plausible: Loveman was friends with Lovecraft, Crane, and Long, and Lovecraft mentioned in his letters how he would go out to cafeterias and automats with his friends. However, the timing is a bit hinky. Crane certainly knew that Lovecraft was in New York since September 1924 (because of the letter that mentions Lovecraft dated 14 Sep 1924, quoted above). The quoted passage from is from Lovecraft’s “He” was probably not written until August 1925. The line from Crane’s poetry which Long misquotes comes from section VII of The Bridge, which reads:
And when they dragged your retching flesh,
Your trembling hands that night through Baltimore—
That light night on the ballot rounds, did you,
Shaking, did you deny the ticket, Poe?Hart Crane, “The Tunnel,” part of The Bridge (1930), in Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 69
It is known that Crane was editing “The Tunnel” in 1926 (The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 274-275), so he must have written it earlier, probably in 1925; it isn’t impossible that Loveman had access to an earlier version in manuscript. On the face of it, this presents a contradiction, since Long claims the meeting occurred in 1924. Possibly, after twenty years, Long’s memory became slightly confused. It’s not implausible for Long to have met Lovecraft and Crane at a cafeteria, it’s just that the details don’t quite match up. A much more well-attested meeting is mentioned in Lovecraft’s diary later in 1925:
 up early–write letters–out to barber’s–back & downtown–see SL & MK–RK arr–dinner automat–sub. To 169–with dishes &c. Via Scotch Bakery to SL’s. Morton there. Crane drop in–discussion–out for coffee–refreshments–wash dishes & discuss, pack up & disperse–in 169 & write–retire [In margin: RAIN]Lovecraft 1925 Diary, Oct 1925, Collected Essays 5.170
Lovecraft gave an account of this in his letter:
At one time Loveman had a caller in the person of his bibulous fellow-poet Hart Crane, (formerly of Cleveland) who was just back from the country & only about ¼ “lit up” by his beloved booze. Poor Crane! A real poet & man of taste, descendant of an ancient Connecticut family & a gentleman to the finger-tips, but the slave of dissipated habits which will soon ruin both his constitution & his still striking handsomeness! Crane left after about an hour, & the meeting proceeded.H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 15 Oct 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.448
This was the last account in Lovecraft’s diaries or letters of Crane during the time they both lived in New York, and for part of that period (1924-1926), Crane had returned to Cleveland and visited friends in Pawling, New York (“Tory Hill”—the country spot Lovecraft had mentioned).
A Final Meeting, 1930
Samuel Loveman was the sole factor that had brought Lovecraft and Crane together in 1922, and during the 1924-1925. Yet in 1926 Lovecraft left New York to return to Providence, and Crane was already off on a series of voyages, from the Isle of Pines to California and France, passing through New York periodically. Hart Crane’s career as a poet can be said to have taken off with the publication of White Buildings (1926) and The Bridge (1930). Yet drinking and solicitation formed two of Crane’s continued vices; borrowing money and drunken antics alienated his friends; the revelation of his homosexuality to his mother occasioned a break from her. All of these issues dogged Crane and sapped his creative energies.
Yet Lovecraft had not forgot Crane, and mentions him a few times in his letters:
Loveman knows this Allen Tate—or is at least slightly acquainted with him. He is, I believe, one of the Greenwich Village clique of which Hart Crane, E. E. cummings, & Waldo Frank are other members—not a very promising milieu for the rendering of Baudelaire.H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 5 Jun 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 176
Lovecraft even noted the publication of The Bridge:
I note the item about Hart Crane’s new poem with much interest, since Crane is a friend of my friend Samuel Loveman. He comes from Cleveland, & when sober—as he is once or twice a year–is an admirably attractive chap. I have met him several times, for he lived in Brooklyn when I did—having a room in an old house on the harbour side of Columbia Heights, within sight of the spidery arc of Brooklyn Bridge, which formed the subject of his then-nascent chef d’ouevre. If he doesn’t die of delirium tremens before another decade is over, he will form one of the standard figures in the poetry of the younger generation. He is part of the semi-Greenwich-Village crowd which includes E. E. Cummings, Waldo Frank, John Dos Passos, & other well-known modernists.H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 24 Apr 1930, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 143
It happened that in May 1930, Lovecraft was passing through New York and visiting Samuel Loveman when Hart Crane arrived. What followed was their last meeting, and perhaps Lovecraft’s best picture of the poet:
About 8 o’clock the bell rang, & there appeared that tragically drink-riddled but now eminent friend of Loveman’s whom I met in Cleveland in 1922, & once or twice later in New York—the poet Hart Crane, whose new book, “The Bridge”, has made him one of the most celebrated & talked-of figures of contemporary American letters. He had been scheduled to speak over the radio during the evening; but a shipwreck off the coast (demanding the use of the ether for important messages) had cut off all local radio programmes & left him free. When he entered, his discourse was of alcoholics in various phases—& of the correct amount of whiskey one ought to drink in order to speak well in public—but as soon as a bit of poetic & philosophic discussion sprang up, this sordid side of his strange dual personality slipped off like a cloak, & left him as a man of great scholarship, intelligence, & aesthetic taste, who can argue as interestingly & profoundly as anyone I have ever seen. Poor devil–he has “arrived” at last as a standard American poet seriously regarded by all reviewers & critics; yet at the very crest of his fame he is on the verge of psychological, physical, & financial disintegration, & with no certainty of ever having the inspiration to write a major work of literature again. After about three hours of acute & intelligent argument poor Crane left—to hunt up a new supply of whiskey & banish reality for the rest of the night! He gets to be a nuisance now & then, dropping in on Loveman for sympathy & encouragement, but Loveman is too conscious of his tragic importance & genuine genius as a man of letters to be harsh or brusque toward him. His case is surely a sad one—all the more so because of his great attainments & of the new fame which he is so ill-fitted to carry for any considerable time. He looks more weather-beaten & drink-puffed than he did in the past, though the shaving off of his moustache has somewhat improved him. He is only 33, yet his hair is nearly white. Altogether, his case is almost like that of Baudelaire on a vastly smaller scale. “The Bridge” really is a thing of astonishing merit. In connexion with this poem—which is on Brooklyn Bridge—a very surprising coincidence was brought to light. It seems that the house in Columbia Heights where Crane lived in 1924 when beginning the poem *& which I visited with Loveman at the time, my first sight of the illuminated Manhattan skyline being from its roof!) turned out—though he did not know it when he lived there—to be the old Roebling house, where the builder of the bridge dwelt when construction was in progress; & furthermore, that Crane’s own room (a shabby, $7.50 per week affair) was actually the room from which the crippled Washington A. Roebling watched & superintended the work with the aid of a telescope! And to heighten the coincidence, Crane swears that he finished the poem (while in Jamaica, knowing nothing of what was happening in the outside world) on the day that Roebling died at his final New Jersey home in 1925 . . . . which also happened to be Crane’s own birthday! Personally, I think the matter of finishing the poem on that date is an imaginative exaggeration of Crane’s although his birthday is certainly the day on which Roebling died. The coincidence of the house is certainly genuine—& it amuses me because my own first glimpse of the bridge & skyline from a window was from Crane’s window—undoubtedly the one which had been Roebling’s! Crane, by the way, was interested to hear of my liking for Charleston; &, though he has never seen it, talked of going there himself as a refuge from a New York he has come to detest. But alas! I fear it would take more than Charleston to bake the alcohol out of him! After Crane’s departure the conversation continued till a late hour—the rain meanwhile having stopped.H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 24 May 1930, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.848-849
Lovecraft’s praise for The Bridge is notable in no small part because Lovecraft was not himself keen on modernist poetry at all, having once written a satire of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922) titled “Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance” (1923). When he read a critique of Crane’s poetry, Lovecraft was obliged to agree:
It is the same tendency which has worked to the advantage of poor Crane & made him such a symbol of the poetic present. I can agree with Mr. Untermeyer regarding Crane’s unintelligibility, & am myself convinced of the unsoundness of any symbolism whose key rests with the author alone. You may have seen an article—largely based on Crane, &including an image-by-image interpretation (furnished by the poet on request) of one of his shorter verses—on this subject some few years ago in Harpers . . . “Poets talking to Themselves”, by Max Eastman. He conceded that Crane’s obscure allusions are not capricious or irresponsible, but expressed strong doubts of the value of associative processes so purely dependent on the contents & workings of one person’s mind.H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 20 Jun 1930, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 332
Perhaps Lovecraft found something in the images of The Bridge that spoke to more than just Crane’s own experience.
Port Mortem, 1932-1937
Hart Crane would apply for a Guggenheim fellowship in August, and with that money would go to Mexico. On the return trip to the United States, Crane would commit suicide on 27 April 1932 by leaping off the cruise ship and into the Gulf of Mexico. Samuel Loveman, who was a close friend of his mother Grace Crane, worked with her to dispose of Hart’s library and belongings, and became literary executor for Hart Crane’s estate. Lovecraft noted:
I lately heard of Contempo from Loveman—they wanted him to do, on very short notice, a critical & biographical sketch of the late poet Hart Crane; (he was practically Crane’s only remaining close friend among normal & wholesome people—Crane’s mother now wants him to edit an edition of her son’s collected shorter pieces) but he decided the proposition was too hurried to be feasible.H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 12 Jun 1932, Essential Solitude 2.486
Lovecraft himself went on voyages, traveling down to New York to visit friends, and bus trips to the southern United States. Like Ernest Hemingway and Hart Crane, Lovecraft visited Key West on the southern tip of Florida, though he did not stay there. A Christmas visit to Loveman in New York gave Lovecraft physical relics to remember Crane by:
Well—at 1 a.m. I broke away from Middagh St. & returned to 230 . . . . bearing with me two valuable antique gifts which Loveman insisted on my accepting. Wait till you see them! One is a very primitive & prehistoric idol of stone—about 4 inches tall, & meant to lie on is back—found in Mexico, & probably made by the Mayas before their rise to civilisation 4000 or 5000 years ago. The sketch on the left gives an idea of its general nature. The other antique is an equally primitive flint chisel in an ivory handle—from Africa, & perhaps a relique of tribes forgotten by all the world. Both items were the property of poor Hart Crane, & were given by his mother to Loveman. Loveman ought not to be giving them away–but who can stop that generous soul when he sets out to exercise his generosity?H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 27 Dec 1932, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.952-953
I also went over to Loveman’s new flat at 17 Middagh Street—where for the first time his various art treasures are adequately display’d. My generous host presented me with two fine museum objects (don’t get envious, O Fellow-Curator!)—to wit, a prehistoric stone eikon from Mexico, & an African flint implement, with primitively graven ivory handle; both from the collection of the late Hart Crane, which Crane’s mother turned over to him.H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 12 Jan 1933, Letters to James F. Morton 308
It is not clear if this was a tourist tchotchke or something else that Crane had picked up on his travels; while there is mention of Crane participating in a brief archaeological dig, all they reportedly found were “some very interesting chips and pieces of the true Aztec pottery” and “one of those incredible sharp fragments of obsidian, part of a knife blade” (The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 379-380), neither of which seem to match.
Were these actual artifacts from Crane’s collection? Samuel Loveman would “authenticate” Hart Crane’s sombrero, and Grace Crane would give or sell him Hart Crane’s bookplates, which Loveman would apply to other books and sell as if they came from Hart’s own library. In later life, he developed a reputation for these kinds of swindles, as mentioned by Walter Goldwater, Robert A. Wilson, Joe Nickell, and others. Yet why would Loveman lie to Lovecraft?
Crane continued to pop up occasionally in Lovecraft’s letters throughout the last years of his own life, never often but showing that the poet was not forgotten:
Your defense of personal & clique codes sounds admirable in theory—& of course one cannot be dogmatic one way or the other—but I saw Hart Crane go to pieces little by little in the years after 1922, & reserve the right to maintain an old gentleman’s quizzical skepticism.H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 7 Apr 1933, Essential Solitude 2.557
And on New Year’s eve he wants me to attend a gathering at his place as I did last year. One of those present will be the mother of the unfortunate Hart Crane. I met her—& Crane’s grandmother also—in Cleveland in 1922. This gathering, I fear, will tend to be something of a bore; but I can’t politely evade it.H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 26 Dec 1933, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.957
Later in the evening I started for the New Year gathering at Loveman’s, which was attended largely by the same group that was there last year. The mother of the late Hart Crane was present—looking vastly older than when I mer her in Cleveland in 1922.H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 1 Jan 1934, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.964
I saw the old year out at the Loveman flat—amidst a small gathering which included the mother of the late poet Hart Crane.H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, c.8-11 Jan 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 509
I read some of the Eastman papers in Harper’s a couple of years ago. There is something in what he says—for when a poet gets too subjective & individual he certainly ceases to have a message for anybody else. Poor Hart Crane (his mother, now visibly an old lady, was at Loveman’s New Year’s gathering) probably justified Eastman’s strictures. Did you notice the analysis of “At Melville’s Tomb”? One can hardly do otherwise than concur with Eastman in his estimate.H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 4 Feb 1934, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 233
The latter a reference to Max Eastman, “Poets Talking to Themselves,” Harper’s 163, No. 5 (October 1931), which quotes the entirety of Hart Crane’s poem “At Melville’s Tomb” (1926). “Poor Hart Crane” appears to have been Lovecraft’s feeling in truth, for while Lovecraft was a teetotal and homophobic, he seemed to have felt a genuine pity for Crane’s suffering and his end, at least what he knew of it, but not just for Crane himself but what he took Crane to represent: the waste of potential, the decline and degeneration from tremendous promise to self-destruction. In his final reference to Hart Crane in his letters, Lovecraft wrote:
The race will always breed its pitiful odds & ends, & these will always be doubly pitiful when their aberrations are linked with lofty heritage or distinguished intellectual or aesthetic capacity. We weep at a tragedy like the late Hart Crane—but find a saving grain of comedy when aberration is linked with stolidity or mediocrity, as in the case of my unwashed Dunkard caller of an hour ago. What a piece of work is man!H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 28 Jun 1934, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman 373-374
I will tell you why; so shall my anticipationWilliam Shakespeare, HAMLET, Act 2, Scene II
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late—but
wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.
Samuel Loveman would survive both of his more famous friends, and would be there at the bedside of Grace Crane during her final hour, as she lamented her son. He was there too when, in accordance with her final wishes, her ashes were released from the Brooklyn Bridge which has become a part of Hart Crane’s memory and legend.
The Literary Afterlife of Lovecraft & Crane
The publication of Lovecraft’s letters has probably done greater service to Hart Crane than vice versa; while there are a number of mentions of Crane, including some detailed accounts of their meetings, in Lovecraft’s correspondence, Crane either did not bother to record his side of the experience or he did and those letters are lost to us. After their deaths, both men achieved a kind of fame that eluded them in life, and once again Samuel Loveman was the bridge between both men, a source of memoirs and reminiscence—although regrettably, most of these happened rather long after their deaths, and Loveman’s recollections are not always so full or detailed as might be hoped. To give an example:
JU: […] Somewhere in here Lovecraft comes in, doesn’t he?
SL: Yes, that was a feud. Hart took a dislike to him, and Lovecraft, as a I said a few minutes ago, was a prig and prissy in his choice of language—you would imagine that the vocabulary of the Queen’s English had been manufactured for him for his sole use. I could see where Hart disliked him.
JU: That was in Cleveland where he first met him.
SL: Yes. Then they came together one evening at my apartment on Colombia Heights with that miraculous view [of] the river and New York, and they began to talk astronomy. Lovecraft was very conversant with the subject, had been writing for years a weekly diatribe on the austere heavens. He discussed it with Hart and Hart listened to him, and I thought to myself, “Well, this should do a lot to cement an acquaintanceship, certainly not a friendship.”
Well, after they left, separately each said to me that both were amazed at one another. I don’t know whether Hart’s attacks on Howard Lovecraft were before or after this incident, as the letters convey in the Brom Weber book, but he certainly attacks him.
JU: Yes, he does. Well, Lovecraft didn’t have any great affectation for Crane.
SL: No, no.
JU: But that first time in Cleveland, Lovecraft did seem to like Crane. Was it Lovecraft and you and someone else… Galpin… went down to hear. . . .
SL: Another prig.
JU: You went to hear a concert of music by [Ernest] Bloch, wasn’t it?
SL: Oh, did I? Well, I’ve forgotten that.
JU: At least there’s a letter that says that you and Galpin and Lovecraft and Hart went to hear this concert.
SL: That has escaped me. You see, what seventy-six years does.“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 392-393
Yet it was the brush of greatness which interested biographers. Crane’s biographies tend to mention Lovecraft, Lovecraft’s biographies end to mention Crane. The accuracy of these mentions varied considerably. For instance, compare:
Loveman introduced Lovecraft to members of his literary circle. One was (Harold) Hart Crane (1899-1932), who in his short life earned a repute as a major poet. Like Lovecraft, Crane had a monster-mother—sexually frigid, foolish, possessive, erratic, and unpredictable. Crane himself, when sober, was a man of great charm—a fascinating talker and a born storyteller.
Crane was, however, a drunkard and an active homosexual, who cruised bars to pick up sailors and was sometimes beaten up for his pains. Because of his charm, he was always being asked to people’s houses. When he got drunk, however, he became an appalling guest. He would run naked through the house, screaming threats and obscenities; he chased one hostess with a boomerang, trying to brain her. Or he would pick up his host’s furniture, or throw it out the window. During Lovecraft’s visit to Cleveland, however, Crane was on good behavior.
Another member of the circle was Gordon Hatfield, with whom Crane was feuding; the two spent the evening needling each other. Unlike Crane, Hatfield proclaimed his deviation by patently effeminate mannerisms. Lovecraft later wrote: “Have you seen that precious sissy that I met in Cleveland. . . . I didn’t know whether to kiss it or kill it!”L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography 172
H. P. Lovecraft, a Cleveland native, writer of horror stories and Gothic tales, fastidious friend of Sam Loveman’s—that “queer Lovecraft person,” Crane called him—had his own assessment of Crane. He’d known Hart Crane in Cleveland back in 1923, and—seeing him here in New York—noted that he seemed now “a little ruddier, a little puffier, and slightly more moustached.” Neither man really cared for the other, and Crane, with his bristling hair, brawling strength, and fox-glint eyes, no doubt frightened Lovecraft as he frightened others. “An egotistical young aesthete,” Lovecraft noted condescendingly, “who has attained some real recognition in The Dial and other modernist organs, and who has an unfortunate predilection for wine when it is red.”
And five weeks later, in early November, on another visit to 110 Columbia Heights to see Sam Loveman, Lovecraft was surprised to find Crane the legend actually sober, but “boasting over the two-day spree he had just slept off, during which he’d been picked up dead drunk off a street in Greenwich Village by the eminent modernist E. E. Cummings—whom he knows well—and put in a homeward taxi.” Poor Crane, Lovecraft summed up, “I hope he’ll sober up with the years, for there’s really good stuff & a bit of genius in him.” “Who asks for me, the Shelley of my age,/Must lay his heart out for my bed and board.” The words, meant for Crane, are Robert Lowell’s, written thirty years later, and give a better sense than Lovecraft’s of who Crane was, this Catullus redivivus, this stalker of sailors, seducing his prey, then scattering “Uncle Sam’s/phony gold-plated laurels to the birds.”
Crane’s two-day spree, if it happened, would have taken place in late October. After all, he had a way of telling the most outrageous stories on himself deadpan for the sake of people like Lovecraft. In any case, he did not record this spree in the letters he sent home.Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane, 165-166
De Camp tends to distort his subject by emphasizing the most extreme anecdotes; for him, Crane and Lovecraft are both freaks. Mariani is more balanced, though he makes a few mistakes—Lovecraft was a Providence native, for all that he met Crane in Cleveland in 1922—and perhaps it is for the best that when James Franco adapted his biography of Crane into a film project (The Broken Tower, 2011) they left Lovecraft out of it.
In truth, Crane scholars seem most interested when Lovecraft’s letters from New York give a glimpse of Crane during that critical period that might be otherwise lacking, while Lovecraft scholars are more interested in the first encounter in Cleveland. The “kiss it or kill it” moment about the “sissy” Gordon Hatfield is the most explicit statement of homophobia that Lovecraft would ever make in his life, and the whole emphasis on masculine vs. feminine behavior—the confusion of gender identity and sexuality—is critical in understanding Lovecraft’s views on sex and gender.
Much of Lovecraft’s reputation as a homophobe rests on that one encounter in Cleveland. It is not a subject that ever comes up in his relation to Hart Crane in New York, with gay friends like Samuel Loveman or R. H. Barlow, and there are only vague intimations when discussing amateur associates like Elsa Gidlow. While there should be no doubt that Lovecraft was homophobic, the scantiness and diffusiveness of the evidence, spread out as it is over three decades worth of letters, is something that sometimes eludes people—but “kiss it or kill it” is clear, concise, and easy to quote.
To understand Lovecraft’s homophobia is also to understand Crane’s homosexuality. Both men were caught up in the early 20th century ideas of maintaining the appearance of masculinity. They both understood (and misunderstood) the social issues of sexuality and gender identity during the 1920s and 30s, a time when simply being homosexual, or gender non-conforming was often not just illegal and met by violence. While it is easy to quote “kiss it or kill it,” this relationship between their views is something that only emerges from the aggregate whole of their published correspondence—to read not just selected quotes from individual letters, but to understand how both Lovecraft and Crane were acting out their roles within a larger social context.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).
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4 thoughts on “Deeper Cut: Hart Crane”
Lovecraft and Loveman meeting in NYC in 1921. That is probably a mistake for 1922. As for imagined meetings, one I like to imagine is HPL and Elsa Gidlow in NYC in 1924-26. They were both there, but NYC is a big place. Whether they would have liked each other is another matter. Neither had much tolerance for fools. Nor was either a fool.
Yes, that was when they both visited Sonia H. Greene in 1922. Good catch, let me fix that.
It’s amusing to see HPL describing himself as ““rough and mannish”; or to comment “I’m afraid he thought me a very crude, stupid, commonplace, masculine sort of person…”
While others say:
Crane: “Miss Sonia Green and her piping-voiced husband, Howard Lovecraft…”
Loveman: “Lovecraft…was a prig and prissy in his choice of language…”
Which but further reinforces my beliefs that much of HPL’s claiming to only care of art for art’s sake, and commercial success be damned (“Those grapes were probably sour, anyway!”) and of his noble heritage from the mighty Aryan race (even if his daily life was of humiliating genteel poverty), are but transparent attempts to maintain amour propre.
Bobby Derie: “[Lovecraft and Crane] …were caught up in the early 20th century ideas of maintaining the appearance of masculinity.”
Indeed; and past those times as well. Having enjoyably worked for years in jobs with substantial amounts of gay workers (the restaurant business in Miami), and for quite a while as a paste-up artist in Florida’s gay newspaper, “The Weekly News” (all gay guys save for the lesbian typesetter), I got to see that attitudes of gays being either “butch” and “fem” lasted much longer, and were far from the sole province of mainstream society. While in most cases the attitudes were of classification, there was also — human nature being what it is — judgmentalism involved.
(Of course, external behaviors do not necessarily extend deeper within. In the Stonewall Riots/Uprising, drag queens proved to be ferocious fighters. And when a mouse invaded the apartment of a lesbian couple who were neighbors and dear friends, it was the “butch” one who jumped up onto a chair, and the “fem” one who brusquely swept the intrusive rodent out.)
All in all, Lovecraft’s attitudes, though far from admirable, are no worse than that of many gay men up until this day, who have expressed impatience or disgust at more “effeminate” members of their group. (The closeted and brilliant suspense writer, Cornell “Rear Window*” Woolrich, even had one of his characters beat up a “pansy.”) HPL’s observation that…
“Hatfield and Crane were mortal enemies, and it use to be amusing to watch them when they met by accident, each trying to humiliate the other by veiled thrusts and conversational subtleties hardly intelligible to an uninitiated third person.”
…will no doubt remind gay folks and those acquainted with them of many “bitchy” arguments they have observed.
Moreover, Lovecraft could still see past the gayness and be appreciative of persons and their creative gifts; express concern over self-destructive behavior, and wish them well.
“And so [Hatfield (?)] has hit the big town! Here’s hoping it will be kind to him, and not crush his flower-like delicacy!”
“Poor Crane! I hope he’ll sober up with the years, for there’s really good stuff & a bit of genius in him. He is a genuine poet of a sort, & his excellent taste is reflected in the choice of objets d’art with which he has surrounded himself.”
“[Crane is] A real poet & man of taste, descendant of an ancient Connecticut family & a gentleman to the finger-tips, but the slave of dissipated habits which will soon ruin both his constitution & his still striking handsomeness!”
“If he doesn’t die of delirium tremens before another decade is over, he will form one of the standard figures in the poetry of the younger generation.”
“When he entered, his discourse was of alcoholics in various phases…but as soon as a bit of poetic & philosophic discussion sprang up, this sordid side of his strange dual personality slipped off like a cloak, & left him as a man of great scholarship, intelligence, & aesthetic taste, who can argue as interestingly & profoundly as anyone I have ever seen.
“After about three hours of acute & intelligent argument poor Crane left—to hunt up a new supply of whiskey & banish reality for the rest of the night! …His case is surely a sad one—all the more so because of his great attainments & of the new fame which he is so ill-fitted to carry for any considerable time…‘The Bridge’ really is a thing of astonishing merit. …”
*Original pulp-magazine story title, “It Had to be Murder”.
As a reminder of how long prejudiced attitudes extended past Lovecraft’s time…
Homosexual behavior was only decriminalized in the U.S. much later:
“In 1961, beginning with Illinois, states began to decriminalize same-sex sexual activity, and in 2003, through Lawrence v. Texas, all remaining laws against same-sex sexual activity were invalidated…”
And homosexuality itself was until fairly recently considered a mental illness. This story recounts how:
“[In 1973], the American Psychiatric Association (APA) — the largest psychiatric organization in the world — made history by issuing a resolution stating that homosexuality was not a mental illness or sickness. This declaration helped shift public opinion, marking a major milestone for LGBTQ equality.”