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It is necessary, before attempting to criticize Mr. Crane’s new book, to place it in the proper genre and to give as accurate an account as one is able of its theme. The book cannot be called an epic, in spite of its endeavor to create and embody a national myth, because it has no narrative framework and so lacks the formal unity of an epic. It is not didactic, because there is no logical exposition of ideas; neither Homer nor Dante will supply a standard of comparison. The structure we shall find is lyrical; but the poem is not a single lyric, it is rather a collection of lyrics on themes more or less related and loosely following out of each other. The model, in so far as there is one, is obviously Whitman, whom the author proclaims in this book as his master.

… These poems illustrate the dangers inherent in Mr. Crane’s almost blind faith in his moment-to-moment inspiration, the danger that the author may turn himself into a kind of stylistic automaton, the danger that he may develop a sentimental leniency toward his vices and become wholly their victim, instead of understanding them and eliminating them.

Mr. Crane is not alone in this danger; it is one of the greatest dangers of the entire body of anti-intellectualist literature of our time. It can be seen in Miss [Elizabeth] Roberts’ latest novel, The Great Medusa, a book in which the dangers potential in the style of her first two novels have become actual and almost smother a good plot. It can be seen in a good deal of the latest work of Mr. [James] Joyce, who, while revolutionizing the word, spends an appalling lot of detailed revolution telling us how little clouds commit suicide and the like. It can be seen, I regret above all to add, in the last three or four years’ work of Dr. [William Carlos] Williams, whose experiments in perpetual motion are becoming so repetitious as to appear very nearly mechanical or even static. Dr. Williams, though a writer of greater range and mastery, in all likelihood, than any of these others, is a bigot and is bound to be the victim of his own bigotry just as are the intellectual bigots whom he damns. Mr. [Robert] Frost, at the age of fifty-odd, can continue to grow amazingly. Mr. Joyce and Dr. Williams appear to be disintegrating in their forties, Miss Roberts and Mr. Crane in their thirties. …

It is possible that Mr. Crane may recover himself. In any event, he has given us, in his first book, several lyrics that one is tempted to call great, and in both books several charming minor lyrics and many magnificent fragments. And one thing he has demonstrated, the impossibility of getting anywhere with the Whitmanian inspiration. No writer of comparable ability has struggled with it before, and, with Mr. Crane’s wreckage in view, it seems highly unlikely that any writer of comparable genius will struggle with it again.