To The Cloud Juggler: A Eulogy For Harry Crosby

“To the Cloud Juggler” is Hart Crane’s poem for Harry Grew Crosby, his patron and publisher who committed double suicide with his mistress Josephine Noyes Rotch Bigelow on December 10, 1929. Crosby was a Boston Brahmin, a descendent of Alexander Hamilton, a cousin of Herman Melville and the blacksheep nephew and godson of J.P. Morgan Jr. In 1927, he and his wife Caresse founded the publishing company Éditions Narcisse in Paris and fostered the Lost Generation’s literary renaissance. By 1928, they changed the name to the alchemically inspired Black Sun Press and published such classics as James Joyce’s Tales Told of Shem and Shaun (1929), which would later become Finnegans Wake, Crane’s The Bridge (1930), Ezra Pound’s Imaginary Letters (1930), D.H. Lawrence’s Sun (1928) and the Hindu Love Manual (1928). Harry was a death obsessed sun-worshipper who created his own rituals and cosmology, which he wrote about fanatically in his poems and diaries:

SUN-TESTAMENT
I, The Sun, Lord of the Sky, sojourning in the Land of Sky, being of sound mind and memory, do hereby make, publish and declare the following to be my Last Will and Testament, hereby revoking all other wills, codicils and testamentary dispositions by me at any time heretofore made.

First, I hereby direct and elect that my estate shall be administered and my will construed and regulated and the validity and effect of the testamentary dispositions herein contained determined by the laws of the Sky.

Second, I give and bequeath absolutely to my wife, the Moon, four octrillion centuries of sun-rays, this legacy to have priority over all other legacies and bequests and to be free from any and all legacy, inheritance, transfer, successions, taxes or duties whatsoever, said taxes or duties to be borne by my estate.

Third, I give and bequeathe the sum of one million centuries of sun-rays net free from any and all legacy, inheritance, transfer, succession, taxes or duties whatsoever, said taxes or duties to be borne by my estate, to my Executors, to be used for the erecting of an Obelisk to the Sun.

Fourth, I give and bequeathe to my beloved wife the Moon my assortment of sunstones, my sun-yacht that for many aeons has navigated the sea of clouds, together with my collection of butterflies which are the souls of women caught in my golden web and my collection of red arrows which are the souls of men caught in my golden web.

Fifth, I give and bequeathe to my sons and daughters the stars, my mirror the ocean and my caravan of mountains.

Sixth, I give and bequeathe to Aurora Goddess of the Dawn a sunrise trumpet and a girdle of clouds.

Seventh, I give and bequeathe to the planet Venus all my eruptive prominences whether in spikes or jets or sheafs and volutes in honor of her all-too-few transits.

Eighth, I give and bequeathe to Lady Vesuvius a sunbonnet, a palace of clouds and the heart she once hurled up to me.

Ninth, I give and bequeathe to the Sun-Goddess Rat the Lady of Heliopolis and a garden of sunflowers.

Tenth, I give and bequeathe to Icarus a sunshade and a word of introduction to the Moon.

Eleventh, I give and bequeathe to Horus (Egyptian Hor) the falcon-headed solar divinity a thousand sun-hawks from my aviary to be mummified in his honor.

Twelfth, I give and bequeathe to Amenophus IV of Egypt my golden gourd that his thirst for me may be assuaged.

Thirteenth, I give and bequeathe to Renofer, High Priest of the Sun, my shares in Electric Horizens and Corona Preferred.

Fourteenth, I give and bequeathe to Louis XIV of France, Le Roi Soleil, my gold peruke.

Fifteenth, I give and bequeathe to Arthur Rimbaud a red sunsail.

Sixteenth, I give and bequeathe to my charioteer Phaeton my chariot of the sun and my chariot-horses Erythous Acteon Lampos Philogeus.

Seventeenth, I give and bequeathe to each of the Virgins of the Sun in Peru, to each and every citizen of Heliopolis, to the Teotitmocars of Mexico who built the giant pyramid to the Sun, to each and every of the Incas, to the Hyperboreans dwellers in the land of perpetual sunshine and great fertility beyond the north wind, my halo, rainbows and mirages, to the Surya-bans and the Chandra-bans of India to each a sunthought and to my lowly subject the Earth ten centuries of sunrays.

Eighteenth, I give and bequeathe likewise to the Japanese Flag whose center is a Red Sun and to the flags of Persia (the Lion and the Sun) and to the flags of Uraguay and Argentine my fiery flames and furious commotion.

Nineteenth, I give and bequeathe to all the inns, cabarets, bars, taverns, bordels whose ensign is the Sun, pieces of brocaded sunlight.

Twentieth, I give and bequeathe sunbonnets to various high monuments in particular the Eiffel Tower, the Woolworth Building, and to an imaginary tower built by the combined height of the phalluses of men.

Twenty-First, I give and bequeathe to Apollo of Greece a temple of the sun to Osiris of Egypt a temple of the sun to Indra of India a temple of the Sun this legacy is over and above any and all commissions to which they may be entitled as executors.

Twenty-Second, All the rest residue and remainder of my estate of whatsoever kind and nature, wheresoever situated, not specifically given or bequeathed hereinabove, including any and all void or lapsed legacies or bequests, I give, devise and bequeathe to Mithra of the Persians and to Surya of the Hindus, or to the survivor with the request that they establish therewith a fund for Sun-Birds (i.i. poets) to be organized and administered by them in their sole discretion and judgement, this fund to be known as the Sun and Moon Fund for Sun-Birds.

Twenty-Third, I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint Osiris of Egypt Apollo of Greece and Indra of India Executors of this my last will and testament.

In witness thereof, I have herewith set my hand and seal to this holographic will, entirely written and dated and signed by me at my Castle of Clouds this nineteenth day of January nineteen hundred and twenty eight.

Signed : The Sun

Signed, sealed, published and declared by The Sun, the Testator above named as and for his last Will and Testament in the presence of us who at his request and in his presence and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses thereto.

Hu of the Druids
Ptah of the Egyptians
Vitzliputsli of the Mexicans
(Chariot of the Sun, 1927)

Caresse, Harry, Kitsa September 1929

Caresse, Harry, Kitsa, Narcisse Noir in Deauville, September 1929

Poem For The Feet Of Polia
they have walked through the gateways
of my eyes
they have climbed the mountains
of my body
they have marched across the desert
of my heart
they have forded the rivers
of my mind
they have penetrated into the dark forest
of my soul
if I were a cannibal I might devour them
if I were Pilate I might crucify them
if I were a sorcerer I might make them vanish away
if I were Neptune I might drown them
if I were a robber I might steal them
but I am a bridge to the sun
bridge leading away from a world of pain
bridge leading away from a night of sin
bridge over the abyss of doubt
bridge for the feet of Polia to the Sun

(Transit of Venus, 1929)

Crane met Harry at Les Deux Magots in January of 1929, at the beginning of what was to be the final year of Crosby’s life. Within a week, Harry agreed to publish The Bridge, Crane’s as yet unfinished response to T.S. Eliot’s disenchanted The Waste Land. “He is of the Sea as I am of the Sun,” Harry wrote in his diary. The two poets identified with particular forces of nature and were consumed by a fascination with death. Harry recognized in Crane a kindred spirit, and he allowed him to live in the tower of his Le Moulin du Soleil (Mill of the Sun) in Ermenonville while he wrote passages of his long poem:

“Have just returned from a weekend at Ermenonville (near Chantilly) on the estate of the Due du Rochefoucauld where an amazing millionaire by the name of Harry Crosby has fixed up an old mill (with stables and a stockade all about) and such a crowd as attended is remarkable. I’m invited to return at any time for any period to finish The Bridge, but I’ve an idea that I shall soon wear off my novelty.” (Hart Crane to Malcolm Cowley; Paris, Feb. 4, 1929)

“All sorts of things have happened. Through Eugene Jolas, editor of transition, I met Harry Crosby who is heir to all the Morgan-Harjes millions and who is the owner of a marvelous de luxe publishing establishment here. —/—/ He has renovated an old mill (16th century) out on the ground of the chateau of the Comte du Rochefoucauld at Ermenonville where I have spent several wild weekends. Polo with golf sticks on donkeys! Old stagecoaches! Skating on the beautiful grounds of the chateau! Oysters, absinthe, even opium, which I’ve tried, but don’t enjoy. I had the pleasure, last week, of spending five days out there working all by myself, with just the gardener and his wife bringing me food and wine beside a jolly hearth-fire. And the beautiful forests all around—like the setting for Pelleas et Melisandel I’m going out again soon.” (To Charlotte and Richard Rychtarik Feb. 26th, 1929)

“Perhaps a few weeks of the quiet of places like this ancient fishing port may change my mind—but at any rate I haven’t so far completed so much as one additional section to The Bridge. It’s coming out this fall in Paris, regardless. If it eventuates that I have the wit or inspiration to add to it later—such additions can be incorporated in some later edition. I’ve alternated between embarrassment and indifference for so long that when the Crosbys urged me to let them have it, declaring that it reads well enough as it already is, I gave in. Malcolm advised as much before I left America, so I feel there may be some justification. The poems, arranged as you may remember, do have I think, a certain progression. And maybe the gaps are more evident to me than to others . . . indeed, they must be.” (To Isidor Schneider Collioure, Pyr.-Orientales May 1st, 1929)

Hart Crane photo by Walker Evans

Hart Crane photo by Walker Evans

The bacchanalia culminated in a night of drinking in the summer of 1929. On June 23, Crane brawled with waiters at the Café Select over a bar tab and assaulted a police officer. He was thrown in La Santé prison. Harry recorded the events in his diary: “Hart was magnificent. When the judge announced that it had taken ten gendarmes to hold him (the dirty bastards, they dragged him three blocks by the feet) all the court burst into laughter.” Harry paid the 800 franc fine at the Palais de Justice and bought him a ticket on the White Star Line back to America.

Later that year, Crane broke the news of the double suicide to Harry’s mother and Caresse. Harry and his “fire princess,” the “Youngest Princess of the Sun,” Josephine Noyes Rotch Bigelow, were found with gunshot wounds to the head in Stanley Mortimer’s 9th floor duplex studio at the Hotel des Artistes. Caresse poured everything into her work and published The Bridge in early 1930 as well as her Poems for Harry Crosby. She said of her late husband, “It is difficult to describe Harry completely, for he seemed to be more expression and mood than man – and yet he was the most vivid personality that I have ever known, electric with rebellion.” A little over two years later, Hart Crane was en route to New York when he jumped off the stern of the steamship Orizaba and was lost at sea.

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