It would take Crane seven years of intermittent but persistent and sometimes fierce application to achieve that “marshalling of the forces.” The Bridge was published in 1930, first in a limited edition by the Black Sun Press in Paris, then in a trade edition by Boni & Liveright in New York. Over that seven-year period, much had changed. Crane began his celebration of America’s “constructive future” when the Twenties were roaring. When The Bridge appeared, the nation was reeling from the stock market crash and about to enter the Great Depression. It was possible to feel that history had invalidated his vision before it arrived.
Reviews of the poem were generally positive, and one or two were glowing. But the ones that mattered most to Crane were by his close literary friends and former advocates, the poet-critics Allen Tate and Yvor Winters, and their assessments, published prominently, were withering. While acknowledging the poem’s extraordinary rhetorical power, they both saw it as an intellectual failure. Crane had not managed the “mystical synthesis” he hoped for; the poem was a mess, without a coherent structure of myth or belief to support its willed optimism about American culture. It proved romanticism was a dead end, Whitman was a disastrous influence, and it was impossible to write a modern epic poem, among other chastening lessons. Crane’s ambition, in their view, had turned out to be “too impossible,” just as he’d feared.
If you look at what’s playing on your television, at what’s showing at the local cinema, at what video games your children are playing, or at what is selling in the young adult section of your neighborhood Barnes & Noble, you’ll see something that is at once deeply cultural and deeply countercultural at the exact same moment: Romanticism.
It’s difficult to know exactly where the movement started, though most historians and literary scholars would give the nod to Edmund Burke and his second great work, On the Sublime and the Beautiful. From Burke’s treatise, almost all modern Romantic thought arose. Burke’s presence is, at times, implicit, and, at times, blatant in the works of such critical figures as Wordsworth and Coleridge, but it can be found throughout most of the romantic poetry and art of the early 19th century. It’s not hard even to imagine Burke’s shadow lingering over Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral. In his own writings on Western civilization, Christopher Dawson argued that the rise of Romanticism, whatever its excesses and failings, was as important to Western civilization, as the re-discovery of Hellenic thought in the Renaissance. Whatever its original and essential intent, Romanticism successfully saved Christianity from the utilitarianism and rationalism of the 18th century, Dawson continued. In its recovery of medieval Christianity in the early 19th century, the Anglo-Welsh Roman Catholic scholar asserted, the Romantics actually discovered “a new kind of beauty.”
One might be tempted to call Nick White’s novel How to Survive a Summer a gay coming of age story, but it’s so much more than that. White’s book explores the intersection of southern culture where sexuality identity clashes with religious ideals. The novel takes on our desire to fit in and the dangerous complicity that can result.