Thursday, January 30, 2014

Analysis of "My Grandmother's Love Letters" by Hart Crane

Original poem reprinted online here:  "My Grandmother's Love Letters" by Hart Crane
Originally read: July 21, 2013
More information about the Poet: Hart Crane

I've been re-reading this poem and my notes, and, the poem, and, yes, there's the theme of memory and forgetting; however, the poem is not as cut and dry with the theme.  Memory is described in a multitude of ways -- as a concept and in the personal.

In the first stanza there's the rhetoric of memory being compared to stars, "There are no stars tonight / But those of memory."  In this way, there's a physical representation of memory.  "Yet how much room for memory there is / In the loose girdle of soft rain."  And with a physical representation there's a way to quantify memory.

The second stanza continues with space, "There is even room enough /For the letters of my mother's mother, / Elizabeth."  Pat me noted the specific name giving a personal effect to the space.  Also the specific image of letters reinforces a physical manifestation of memory.  I find the line "mother's mother" curious, but foreshadows the relationship the speaker has with "mother's mother."

The speaker then further describes the letters, "that have been pressed so long / Into a corner of the roof" the act of hiding within the home, "that they are brown and soft, / And liable to melt as snow."  Hiding leads to a decay -- a loss of memory.

And so the space and person tie in together in regards to aging:

     Over the greatness of such space
     Steps must be gentle
     It is all hung by an invisible white hair
     It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air

There's a sense of the grandiose of memory and a person, however, here the speaker moves carefully and note the comparison, "It is all hung by an invisible white hair/ It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air" Careful, but aged.  Here is the focus of movement.

Then the speaker goes to the self.  The rhetorical questions deal more with sound, "'Are your fingers long enough to play / Old Keys that are but echoes:"  The transition to memory that, "Is the silence strong enough / To carry back the music to the source"  And here the line could end with an implied source, but the confirmation, "And back to you again /As though to her?'" Is not so much to name the source, rather to think of the source -- who is it -- the person able to read the letters or the one who wrote it.

     Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
     Through much of what she would not understand;
     And so I stumble.  And the rain continues on the roof
     With such a sound of gently pity laughter.

Here, I'm not sure if the grandmother is real or more of a phantom of memory based on how the poem continues to play with memory and person.  And with the semi-colon, the grandma ties into how the rain on the roof -- destroying the letters.  Both are being destroyed and the sense of cynicism adds a sense of frustration, "sound of gently pity laughter."  


  1. That is a very haunting poem indeed. I think the grandmother there is like a phantom or a mere memory. It’s represented by the letters being as fragile and soft after a long time. You made a great analysis of this poem, which I feel is very poignant and reminiscent of a grandparent each of us had lost, but still remains a distant memory.
    Demetrius Flenaugh

  2. Crane at least WANTED to imagine his grandmother as a real person with a love life. That puts him one up on me—and one up on Eliot too, come to think of it. I'm grateful to Hart for that.