Quaker Hill


This poem gets fairly scant attention in most of the works I have looked at, which is usually explained by quoting this from a letter of Crane's from December 26 of 1929: "'Quaker Hill' is not, after all, one of the major sections of the poem; it is rather by way of an 'accent mark' that it is valuable at all" (quoted in Nilsen, p. 131).

There is difference among the works I have consulted about the exact story of Quaker Hill itself, but all agree it was some sort of vacation resort, in upstate New York near where Crane lived for a time, and was formerly the site of a Quaker Meeting House.


(numbers refer to lines of the poem)

epigraph 1 : Isadora Duncan was an American modern dancer whose work Crane loved. He wrote about seeing her in Cleveland in a letter from December 12th, 1922, to Gorham Munson: "It was glorious beyond words, and sad beyond words too, from the rude and careless reception she got here. It was like a wave of life, a flaming gale that passed over the heads of the nine thousand in the audience without evoking response other than silence and some maddening cat-calls" (quoted in Nilsen p. 133). The source of Duncan's quote seems to be an article titled "What Love Meant to Isadora Duncan" by George Seldes, in a periodical of some type called The Mentor, from February 1930. Since The Bridge appeared in 1930 (and according to Nilsen on p. 131, was "put to bed" by the poet in his letter of December 26, 1929, quoted above, although this doesn't preclude Crane making later additions, I suppose), it seems likely that Crane must have seen this quote in some earlier source.

epigraph 2: Emily Dickinson is considered the other greatest American poet of the 19th century (with Whitman). The poem quoted is "The Gentian Weaves Her Fringes." Note that this may not be a perfect text of the poem--another one I found (here: <http://bartelby.org/113/2047.html>) does not capitalize the title, reads "angles" for "angels," adds stanza breaks after lines 8 and 12, and changes some punctuation. I'll have to do more research on the best text.

The Gentian weaves her fringes --
The Maple's loom is red --
My departing blossoms
Obviate parade.

A brief, but patient illness --
An hour to prepare,
And one below this morning
Is where the angels are --
It was a short procession,
The Bobolink was there --
An aged Bee addressed us --
And then we knelt in prayer --
We trust that she was willing --
We ask that we may be.
Summer -- Sister -- Seraph!
Let us go with thee!

In the name of the Bee --
And of the Butterfly --
And of the Breeze -- Amen!

4: these are but cows : Nilsen reads these as actual cows, while others see them as the wealthy vacationers who are being satirized (one probably does not need to choose).

5: their own inner being : I find this syntactically ambiguous, but if we read it as something else that the cows see, it strikes me as a bit surprising: knowledge of one's inner self, in our psychological age, is usually seen as a sign of enlightenment. I think it can be taken as a sort of selfishness, however; they know nothing of others, only of their own desires. I think there is also an echo of Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, here. In his Meditations, Descartes tries to determine whether there is anything we know without any doubt. "By the end of the First Meditation, Descartes [introduces] an imaginary demon 'of utmost power and cunning' who is systematically deceiving him in every possible way. Everything I believe in--'the sky, the earth, and all external things'--might be illusions that the demon has devised in order to trick me. Yet this very extremity of doubt . . . yields the first indubitable truth in the Cartesian quest for knowledge--the existence of the thinking subject. 'Let the demon deceive me as much as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I think I am something . . . . I am, I exist, is certain, as often as it is put forward by me or conceived in the mind.' Elsewhere, Descartes expresses this cogito argument in the famous phrase 'Cogito ergo sum' ('I am thinking, therefore I exist')." (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., "Descartes, René".)

11: annoy : a poetic coinage for "annoyance."

12: phlegm : phlegm was one of the four humors (the other three are yellow bile, black bile, and blood). Phlegm was associated with the season of winter, the element of water, and with being cold and moist. It is described (for the first time, I believe?) in the work of Hippocrates, the great ancient Greek physician (his written work is actually thought to be the work of a number of people; I am not sure whether there even was a historical Hippocrates, as there was likely no historical Homer--I'll look into it further).

40: Friends : a term for the Quakers.

43: Powitzky : Crane knew a Mrs. Porwitzki (spelled differently) and borrowed her name here, says Mariani (p. 261).

50: Dead rangers bled their comfort on the snow : Mariani (p. 341) tells us that some of George Washington's soldiers were shot and brought to a nearby house to die in the winter of 1779.

54-55: Wait for the postman driving from Birch Hill / With birthright by blackmail : Mariani (p. 342) believes this refers to how Crane waited, when he lived in this area, for a letter from his mother saying that she had written his father about his drinking and his wasting of money (and possibly his homosexuality? I'm not sure).

54: Birch Hill : Crane lived off of Birch Hill road in the area (Mariani p. 342).

56: unfolds : a pun on the literal unfolding of a page of paper.




This page has been edited 8 times. The last modification was made by - MisterMartin MisterMartin on Mar 8, 2008 2:45 pm