June 20, 2010

Harry Crosby


Harry Crosby [USA]

Born Harry Grew Crosby in 1898, Crosby was raised in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, the son of one of the richest banking families and nephew to financier J. P. Morgan. It was expected that he would continue in the family business, but the young Crosby, after graduating from the exclusive St. Mark’s prep school, broke family tradition, volunteering instead for the American Ambulance Corps. Crosby was cited for bravery after the Battle of Orme, and in 1919 was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Returning to Boston to attend Harvard, he met Polly Peabody, herself of a wealthy background, and immediately fell in love. Peabody, however, was already married. The scandal of her divorce and their trans-continental affair and marriage in 1922 shocked proper Boston society, and helped to determine Crosby’s expatriation to Paris.

In Paris Crosby convince Peabody to change her name to Caresse and himself began on a life of womanizing, drinking, gambling, and general dissolution that characterized several wealthy Americans living in Europe, Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gerald Murphy among them. After working for a brief time in his uncle’s Paris bank, Crosby determined to become a writer, and in 1928 inherited his cousin Walter Berry’s collection of more than 7000 books. After having read them, Crosby gave most of the books away, even sneaking them into used bookshops. The year before, he and Caresse founded Black Sun Press, which produced most of Crosby’s own publications as well as those of numerous American poets and French authors of the late 1920s.

Much of Crosby’s poetry dealt with mythological and archetypal imagery, particularly with Crosby’s image of the sun as a powerful force tying together life and death. For Crosby the sun also represented sexual forces which he played out in his numerous affairs with women, with which several of whom he had made suicide pacts.

As his poetry of the late 1920s became more and more innovative and influential, his own personal life moved toward spiritual obsession. During this same period Crosby began to experiment with photography and wrote some of his most important books, including Transit of Venus (poems inspired by his affair with Joseph Noyes Rotch), Mad Queen, The Sun, Sleeping Together and his autobiography, Shadows of the Sun.

In June of 1929, Josephine and his affair had been nearly severed, and she married Albert Smith Bigelow. But in December of that year, Crosby and Josephine met again in Detroit, checking in to a hotel under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Crane. A few days later the couple returned to New York, where they agreed that Josephine would return to her husband in Boston. That evening Hart Crane threw a party for Harry and Caresse, who were returning to Paris.

Josephine, in the meantime, did not return to her husband but delivered a poem to Crosby at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel that ended: “Death is our marriage.” On December 10th, Crosby and Josephine were found together in a bedroom, dead. Apparently after shooting Josephine, Crosby shot himself to carry out the suicide pact the two had made.


Sonnets for Caresse (Paris: Herbert Clarke, 1925), 2nd edition (Paris: Herbert Clarke, 1926), 3rd edition (Paris: Albert Messein, 1926), 4th edition (Paris: Editions Naracisse, 1927); Red Skeletons (Paris: Editions Narcisse, 1927); Chariot of the Sun (Paris: At the Sign of the Sundial, 1928); Transit of Venus (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1928), 2nd edition (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929); Mad Queen (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929); The Sun (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929); Sleeping Together (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929); Aphrodite in Flight: Being Some Observations on the Aerodynamics of Love (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1930); Collected Poems of Harry Crosby [4 volumes] (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1931-1932).


O ye who claim to be our loyal friends
Come now and build for us a funeral pyre,
And lay our emptied bodies on the fire,
Pray for our souls, murmur your sad amens;
And while the gold and scarlet flame ascends
Let he who best can play upon the lyre,
Pluck slow regretful notes of deep desire,
Sing subtle songs of love that never ends.
and when at last the embers growing cold
Gather ye up our ashes in an urn
Of porphyry, and seek a forest old
There underneath some vast and mighty oak
choose ye our grave, spread over us a cloak
Of woven violets and filmy fern.

(from Sonnets for Caresse, 1925)

Short Introduction to the Word

Take the word Sun which burns permanently in my brain. It has accuracy and alacrity. It is a monomaniac in its intensity. It is a continual flash of insight. It is the marriage of Invulnerability with Yes, the Red Wolf with the Gold Bumblebee, of Madness with Ra.

Birdileaves, Goldabbits, Fingertoes, Auroramor, Barbarifire, Parablolaw, Peaglecock, Lovegown, Nombrilomane.

I understand certain words to be single and by themselves and deriving from no other words as for instance the word I.

I believe that certain physical changes in the brain result in a given word—this word having the distinguished characteristic of unreality being born neither as a result of connotation nor of conscious endeavor: Starlash.

There is the automatic word as for instance with me the word Sorceress; when the word goes on even while my attention is focused on entirely different subjects just as in swimming my arms and legs go on automatically even when my attention is focused on subjects entirely different from swimming such as witchcraft for instance or the Sorceress.

Fragment of an Etude for a Sun-Dial

let the Sun shine
(and the Sun shone)

on a wooden dial
in the garden of an old castle
(dumb when the Sun is dark)

on a pillar dial
in the Cimetière de l’Abbaye de Longchamp
(Blessed be the name of the Sun for all ages)

on the wall of an imaginary house
Rue du Soleil Paris
(the initials of the makers H.C. and C. C. and
date October Seventh 1927 are on the face)
(true as the dial to the Sun)

on a small stone dial
over the door of a farm
(Sole oriente orior
Sole ponente cubo)

on the exterior of a ring dial
worn on the finger of the Princess Jacqueline
(“Es-tu donc le Soleil pour vouloir que je me
tourney vers toi!?)

on the dial on the south wall
of a tower
(the Sun is the end of the journey)

and thee is a second dial
on the north tower
(I tarry not for the slow)

on a dial
over an archway in a stableyard
(norma del tempo infallibile io sono)
(I am the infallible measure of the time)

on a dial
in a garden in Malta

on a dial at Versailles

on an old Spanish dial
(the dial has now, 1928, disappeared a
railroald line having been taken through the
garden where it stood)

on the wall of the
Bar de la Tempete at
Breast facilng the sea
(c’êst l’heure de boire)

on a small brass dial in
the British Museum
on a silver dial in the
Musuem at Copenhagen
on a gold dial on the
soul of a Girl
(“mais à mon âme la nécessité de ton âme”)

let the Sun shine
(and the sun shone)

on a dial placed upon the
deck of the Aeolus
in the harbor of New London
on a dial placed upon the
deck of the Aphrodisiac
in the harbor of Brest
on a dial placed upon
the deck of the Aurora
in the harbor of my Heart
(“et quelques-uns en eurent connaissance”)

let the Sun shine
(and the Sun shone)

on pyramids of stones
on upright stones in
ancient graveyards
on upright solitary stones
on bones white-scattered on the plain
the white bones of lions in the sun
the white lion is the phallus of the Sun
“I am the Lions I am the Sun”

on the dial of Ahaz who
reigned over Judah

on a rude horologe in Egypt
(“as a servant earnestly)
desireth the shadow”)

on the eight dials of
the Tower of the Winds at Athens

on old Roman coins
unburied from the ground

on the twin sundials on
the ramparts of Carcassone

on the pier at Sunderland
(and where is the sound
of the pendulum?)

on the sun-dials on the mosques
of Saint Sophia
of Muhammed
and of Sulimania

on the imeense circular
block of carved porphyry
in the Great Square of
the City of Mexico

on Aztec dials
on Inca dials
(Femme offer ton Soleil en adoration aux Incas)

on Teutonic dials built
into the walls of
old churches

on the dial of the Durer Melancholia
(above the hour-glass and near the bell)

on the white marble slab
which projects from the
façade of Santa Maria Della Salute
on the Grand Canal Venice

on the dial of the Cathedral at Chartres
(“the strong wind and the snows”)

on a bedstead made of bronze
(and Heliogabalus had one of solid silver)

on a marriage bed
(lectus genialis)
in a death bed
(leactus funebrius)

on a bid
style à la marquise
(“ayant peur de mourir lorsque je couche seul”)

on a bed
lit d’ange

on a flower bed
on a bed of mother-of-pearl
on a bordel bed
on a bed of iniquity
on a virgin bed
on a bed or rock

To God the Sun Unconquerable
to the peerless Sun, we only

let the Sun shine
(and the Sun shone)

Soli Soli Soli

The Rose

to fame unknown
to many a, and many a maid
we are not naming
to whom was given
(be as wax to flaming)
we poets in our desire
wear the rose of what he steals from her
learning in the freshness of
ashes cold as fire


Sleeping Together

cry in your sleep and implore
cry autumn’s fire still small
cry as the door to the wind
cry for the touch of the snow upon snow
cry of the things that you fear
cry in the darkness a distant
dream in my ear

(from Sleeping Together, 1929)

Poems copyright (c)1925 and 1929 by Harry Crosby.

1 comment:

w. bertola said...