Cape Hatteras

All commentators seems to agree that this poem refers to the first flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk (hence all of its aviation imagery).

(numbers refer to lines of the poem)

Cape Hatteras: "Cape Hatteras is a cape on the coast of North Carolina. It is the point that protrudes the furthest to the southeast along the northeast-to-southwest line of the Atlantic coast of North America, making it a key point for navigation along the eastern seaboard. So many ships have been lost around it that the area is known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". The nearby shoals are known as Diamond Shoals" (Wikipedia).

epigraph: Comes from "Passage to India," a poem in what is probably the single most famous and influential volume of poetry ever written by an American, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (published in various editions between 1855 and 1891). There is an immense amount of work on Whitman (the Whitman Archive, linked to for its text of "Passage to India" above, looks stunning), but to give a very under-informed and rudimentary description, Whitman is one of the two poles of 19th-century American poetry: he wrote very long lines and very long poems, and wanted to embrace all of America. The other pole was Emily Dickinson, Whitman's opposite in multiple ways: she was a woman, a genuine recluse, and wrote very short lines and very short, telegraphic poems. Whitman was also gay (or at least has been believed by many to have been so, though Arnold Weinstein of Brown University mentioned in a lecture that we do not have any absolute evidence of it), as was Hart Crane.

32: salver : a tray for serving food or drinks.

50: Paumanok : a Native American name for Long Island. Refers to "Starting from Paumanok," a poem by Walt Whitman.

98: War's fiery kennel : battles between planes were known as "dogfights."

102: theorems sharp as hail : Mariani (p. 333) thinks this describes machine-gun bullets (which are among the products of modern engineering and its theorems).

122-27: Mariani thinks that these lines describe blimps that planes might land on (p. 334).

126: pancreas : an organ in the abdomen that assists with digestion (and has some other functions). Given Crane's alcoholism and the mention of "alcohol" in line 132, it may be significant that pancreatitis (which comes in an acute, often fatal, variety and a chronic variety) is often caused by overconsumption of alcohol. Cool page on these issues here.

126: anthracite : a hard, lustrous, clean-burning, natural form of coal.

133: Sanskrit : the language in which the Vedas would have been written (line 215).

134: marge : archaic for "margin."

136: The benediction of the shell's deep, sure reprieve! : death, apparently.

138: escutcheoned : definition here.

139: quittance :definition here.

179: Thou : Walt Whitman, who worked in a Civil War hospital. Whitman was profoundly shaken by the experience, and Arnold Weinstein argued (as I think many have, but Weinstein is the one whose lecture I heard) that the experience more or less silenced Whitman as a poet.

181: Appomattox : The Battle of Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia was the final battle of the American Civil War before the Confederacy surrendered to the Union.

181: Somme : The Battle of the Somme in France lasted for months in 1916; it was one of the largest battles of the First World War, with over a million casualties.

190: Potomac : a river that runs through Washington D. C. Hishikawa thinks the reference here is to American abolitionist John Brown, who in 1859 crossed the Potomac to seize weapons in Harper's Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia) in order to form an armed force to free slaves, for which he was tried and executed.

190: Pontiac : Between 1763 and 1766, an uprising was lead by a Native American chief named Pontiac (whose people were actually the Ottawa) against the British. Note that if we take "then" in the standard sense of "subsequently," the syntax of this line is reversed--the Pontiac uprising predated John Brown. (We could also take "then" as "back then," or feel that "Potomac lilies" are not a specific reference to John Brown.)

191: Klondike : a region of Canada just East of Alaska, where gold was discovered in 1896, leading to a gold rush.

198: Panis Angelicus : "Bread of the angels," a section of a Latin hymn called Sacris solemniis, sometimes treated as a hymn in its own right. Written by St. Thomas Aquinas; more information here. If the Wikipedia article is correct, the "a" in "angelicus" should not be capitalized, though it is in Crane's poem. Here is one translation:

Bread of Angels,
become the bread of men;
The Bread of heaven
ends all prefigurations:
What wonder!
who consumes the Lord
but a poor and humble servant.
We beg of You,
God, One in Three
that you visit us,
as we worship You.
By your ways,
lead us who seek
the light in which You dwell.

215: Vedic : definition here.

This page has been edited 10 times. The last modification was made by - MisterMartin MisterMartin on Mar 10, 2008 8:18 pm