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Zeck, G.R. (1979). Hart Crane's The Wine Menagerie: The Logic of Metaphor. Am. Imago, 36(3):197-214.

(1979). American Imago, 36(3):197-214

Hart Crane's The Wine Menagerie: The Logic of Metaphor

Gregory R. Zeck

In “The Wine Menagerie,” Hart Crane dramatizes, more fully than in any other lyric, the familial context of his struggle for identity and demonstrates how his particular esthetic, the “logic of metaphor,” solves poetically the problem of who he is. The poet presents himself sitting in a barroom, looking on at a quarreling man and woman: “father and mother,” as Sherman Paul puts it, “seen from the ‘distance’ of Childhood.” As a spectator of his parents' fascinating entanglement, the poet occupies an ambivalent position between identification with them and independence. This ambivalence is reflected in the tension between the lyrical mode and the dramatic-narrative mode, by definition something accessible to a public. The poet establishes himself implicitly as the viewing audience for his parents' scene; but he plays this scene back to us readers of the poem, his audience, through the filter of intense and even hallucinatory metaphors. At the same time, Crane depends on us to clarify such perplexities, to see autonomy and dependence existing together in the very structure of metaphor. For metaphors (vehicles) stand alone on the page, like Crane in the barroom, yet they depend for their life on the deep meanings (tenors) which, we see, support them, even as Crane inevitably incorporates aspects of his parents in consolidating his own sense of identity. Thus, he accommodates in metaphor the ambivalence which keynotes his life and poetic career, thus, he resolves his crisis of identity.

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