A commentary of the poem "The Broken Tower" by Hart Crane

Essay by swb112High School, 12th gradeA+, July 2008

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A Broken Tower, by Hart Crane, is a metaphor-rich poem that is very ambiguous but seems to describe the difficulties of the creative process and the way in which the artist is bound and compelled by it. Crane uses many religious metaphors and references, directly mentioning God and also bells, which are associated with churches. It is possible to interpret the poem in a religious sense, but it could be argued that religion and art are similar metaphors; that, for the poet, his writings are both a method of spiritual expression and a search for truth. The title, ‘A Broken Tower’, refers to a continuing metaphor in the poem and suggests the deconstruction of established paradigms which is necessary for artistic progress. Throughout the poem, Crane speaks of destroying a stone tower and building a new one from within himself; and as the poem progresses, the tone shifts from negative to positive.

The poem is simple stylistically and consists of ten quatrains with an abab rhyming pattern.

Crane begins the poem with one of the predominant metaphors, the bell. This also has religious significance, as it is associated with the call to prayer in the morning. However, Crane’s bell does not call people to God but rather ‘gathers God’. Also strange is the fact that the tone of the first stanza, though regarding dawn and God (traditionally positive), is quite negative. The poet is ‘dropped down the knell of a spent day’ and his ‘feet chill on steps from hell’. This curious negativity shows Crane’s rejection of the traditional, symbolised by established religion. Normally, to go ‘from pit to crucifix’ would be positive as it symbolises moving towards God, but the poet’s disdain for the traditional manifests itself in the decidedly negative tone of the first stanza.