The Death of Hart Crane

Who said ‘Hail Mary’ at the poem’s beginning

Spoke as the angel spoke

To God’s own Mother

Could you suppose

As the waters rose

Over a life of the saddest sins

She might refuse

To help you?


‘Mater dei

Et mater mei’ -

Come, let us with the mariners invoke

Mater divinae gratiae

Star of the sea

Santa Maria

Pray for me.


How many times

Has she been summoned by those trusting rhymes?

Did they echo from the porthole

Just above the spray

Where the native sailors sang

At moments through the day

Of their mother

God’s own Mother

Christ their brother?

Did the crying sea-gulls seem to pray

When the ship’s bells rang

A clamorous Angelus

Mingled with the De Profundis too?


And all the bells were ringing to bring help to you

And failed

And the ship sailed

On into the translucent blue

And you were sinking

Under the green marble mountains

In the bitter sea

And did you think

She would forget you in your loss? –


Mary, who took you to her heart

With Tom, Dick, and Harry

All the sad sons especially

Whom Christ gave her from the start

When he looked from the Cross

At the bars and the bedrooms

And the Devil in the street

When He watched you through the Blood

That poured across His eyes


The bells

The bells had rung in Heaven


There on the absolutely even

Suddenly silent ocean

She stood

And the sea-roses clustered at her feet

Madonna,’ Satan said, ascending from the water vaults

‘This man has debts to pay

Payable on demand

Which are due and unforgiven

When one of our depositors defaults

We are left with no alternative but to pray

The Court, of which, Madonna, you are Queen,

The Court of Final Instance to decree


Since it is passing pleasure which we lend

This debtor’s payment has been long in great arrears

Here is the mortgage - death-gage - he was quick to sign

A little splotched with tears

Enclosed is list of mortal sins as shown

And there is interest at the usual fixed per cent’



Replied your advocate

‘You will demand

Nothing from this friend of mine’

‘Madonna,’ Satan said in terror

Surely, there must be some error

He is not - how can I best express negation? -

In the right state for Heaven’


La Virgo de la Mare spoke

‘There is a place of preparation

Where love burns only to be joined with Love

And while it burns, the self-love sifts away

And so the soul takes on the beauty it is given


You know this

Do not, then, deceive’


The dolorous spirit seemed to sigh

As though with grief


‘Of course - but that does not apply

He deserves the just desert he chose

He has, Madonna, brought himself to die

Despair has made him make

The profound mistake

We had the honour to suggest

Earlier in the bar

And we must now foreclose’


‘But is he dead?’

Asked the Queen of Poets

Regina poetarum

As the twelve stars shone above her head


‘Si, Madonna, si’

Said Satan eagerly


‘That is not true’

Said the Queen of Angels

And placed her mantle twice around you

‘He called this “ageless”’

Saying so, she gestured to the blue

Empyrean hue

That coloured all the sea

Which had become her mantle too


‘He is still living -

Free to choose

Friend or enemy

He need not lose

His little toe to you’


And she who once had leaned above the manger, giving

Her love to God become a child warmed by the breath of beasts

Leaned over your poor wasted body

Which was supported by the silent subject sea


‘Dear Son,’ she said

And held you in a mother’s calm embrace

But though she looked at you she gazed

Into another Face

And saw the eyes alight like hers with love

‘Dear Son,’ she said, and Satan seemed to weep

Over his own reflection in the deep

Impassive sea

‘Dear Son,’ - and in the silence raised

To a pitch of music, she besought

Christ for your soul


And you were saved


Since has she ever asked in vain

For the worn-out sinner caught

In his own toils

Who once held out a handful of small flowers

In imagination as she passed before him

Followed by her virginal angelic train?


So in your mind

Among the broken towers

Of pride

In the moment before you died

Mater divinae gratiae

She placed her Christmas Child

And you, awaking from what seemed a sleep

Saw Him as you had known Him

Meek and mild

When you were playing at your mother’s feet

In the happiness of long ago

And all at once you chose Him

Utterly and forever


And your sins washed away

And the Devil went away

And you were at peace



Something like this, I think, took place

When you were dying in the sea

And brought an everlasting rest

To you, who in these recent empty livelong days

Simply self-taught, knew how to praise

God and the Blessed Virgin best


Now, with Columbus, you have reached

That shore where every care is beached

So, of your goodness, pray for me