Hart Crane on the Isle of Pines
The Caribbean fell like hammers
on the carillon of his senses.
In his fierce and gentle poem
“Ave Maria” he was Columbus
gazing toward Spain, finding
for this world its new language,
and so the myth began, and so it came down
to this man standing in tide-wrack
and dreaming to absorb a Machine Age
into the ocean of his poems.
He wandered the island, saying
flower names, saying passiflora,
wanting for his poems the power
of the Doctrine of Signatures, by which
the priests of Ponce de Leon named
this array of sepals, this radiant corona
“the flower of the five wounds,”
and those words made it so,
to this day. But who is the poet,
he asked, to think himself greater
than the marble cutters of the Isle of Pines
who leave the oils and salts from their hands
on stone that does not remember them?
When all’s blank to the hurricane’s
chiseling winds, how can a man’s work
go on from him? From the pleasure deck
of the liner Orizaba to New York
he looked upon the waves’
tendons, valves and corridors, their
fabulous shadows. He remembered
the air plant of the Isle of Pines,
called “arms uplifted to the Virgin’s mercy,”
alive on saline nothingness.
Then he clasped the sea.
And the sea, with syllables of waves,
inscribes his epitaph on every shore.
Copyright © Thomas Reiter