Why did Hart Crane commit suicide? And why did T. S. Eliot not commit suicide?
T. S. Eliot should have slashed his wrists in the bathtub. He was probably too neat to make a bloody mess like that. But think of the possibilities. He puts on a toga, pretends to be a noble Roman too proud to join the crowd at the Forum, too patrician to attend the Senate. He must end his life with dignity and poise. He is not a general. He has not been defeated in battle. He can’t fall on his sword. So he cuts his wrists. Those Romans knew how to die. They had a strict and manly code. You did not go sloughing on when it was your time to go. You did it quiet and alone. No fuss and bother. No theatrics. Isolated from everybody, you waited for the right moment, a time and place where nobody could interrupt. This was not a call for pity or forgiveness. This was not for the benefit of the world. You were doing this for yourself, the most selfish of acts. Poof. You are gone. Let them bury you. Let them praise you with eulogies. Let them write a funeral march. Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how the world remembers you. Legacies are their own false versions of history. They, too, get rewritten every time anybody gets a chance. If you have written a line of verse or sung a song, then there is nothing more to do. T. S. Eliot sure missed his chance. A good PR guy could have told him.
But Hart Crane: he had one chance and took it. Body never found, food for the fishes. Brings up all kinds of possibilities. A shark, for instance, might eat a poet. Then the shark is caught by fishermen, and his fin is used to make shark fin soup in a restaurant in Chinatown. Will the person who eats the soup feel inspired to write his own poetry? Or will they, the next day at work, be inspired to commit some predatory act on a fellow employee? We would like to believe that poets are stronger than sharks, but has this ever been objectively tested? Anyway, Hart Crane’s body probably was not eaten by a shark. More likely he floated to the surface and decomposed slowly over time. Probably he was digested by the smallest of organisms, themselves but one among many in a complex food chain. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, shared in the poetic essence. Diluted to that extent, the person who eats a clam will be lucky to get even one syllable of inspiration from their meal. There are many other possibilities, of course. The body of a poet, for instance, might not decompose at all. Hart Crane could still be out there, floating around the Caribbean somewhere, writing watery poems about the beauty of coral formations, the underbellies of sea birds, smoky chimneys along continental fault lines, or luminous chains of jelly fish hurrying to their jobs.