Harry Crosby

Three poems in retrospect, with an introduction

[The following is in celebration of the recent publication by MadHat Press of Selected Poems by Harry Crosby, which brings back the work of a major but twice forgotten avant-garde poet from the period of American poetry between the two world wars. In 1973 George Quasha and I had promoted his recovery/rediscovery in our anthology/assemblage America a Prophecy, and in the following year I carried this forward in Revolution of the Word: A New Gathering of American Avant-Garde Poetry 1914–1945. The poems reprinted below are from the latter work, followed here by my original introduction. My own sense of Crosby’s value as a poet and prolific innovator has never diminished. (J.R.)]




(for Lady A.)


black  black  black  black  black

black  black  black  black  black

black  black  black  black  black

black  black  black  black  black

black  black   SUN   black  black

black  black  black  black  black

black  black  black  black  black

black  black  black  black  black

black  black  black  black  black

black  black  black  black  black







Take the word Sun which burns permanently in my brain. It has accuracy and alacrity. It is monomaniac in its intensity. It is a continual flash of insight. It is the marriage of Invulnerability with Yes, of the Red Wolf with the Gold Bumblebee, of Madness with Rā




Birdileaves, Goldabbits, Fingertoes, Auroramor, Barbarifire, Parabolaw, Peaglecock, Lovegown, Nombrilomane




I understand certain words to be single and by themselves and deriving from no other words as for instance the word I




I believe that certain physical changes in the brain result in a given word — this word having the distinguished characteristic of unreality being born neither as a result of conotation nor of conscious endeavor: Starlash



There is the automatic word as for instance with me the word Sorceress; when the word goes on even while my attention is focused on entirely different subjects just as in swimming my arms and legs go on automatically even when my attention is focused on subjects entirely different from swimming such as witchcraft for instance or the Sorceress





                                  let the Sun shine

                                  (and the Sun shone)

on a wooden dial

in the garden of an old castle

(dumb when the Sun is dark)


on a pillar dial

in the cimetiere de lAbbaye de Longchamp

(blessed be the name of the Sun for all ages)


on the wall of an imaginary house

Rue du Soleil Paris

(the initials of the makers H.C. and C.C. and date

October Seventh 1927 are on the face)

(true as the dial to the Sun)


on a small stone dial

over the door of a farm

(sole oriente orior

sole ponente cubo)


on the exterior of a ring dial

worn on the finger of the Princess Jacqueline

(Es-tu donc le Soleil pour vouloir que je me tourne

vers Toi”)


on the dial of the south wall

                     of a tower

(the Sun is the end of the journey)


and there is a second dial

         on the north wall

(I tarry not for the slow)


on a dial

over an archway in a stableyard

(norma del tempo infallible io sono)

(I am the infallible measure of the time)


on a dial

in a garden in Malta


on a dial at Versailles


on an old Spanish dial

(the dial has now, 1928, disappeared a railroad line

having been taken through the garden where it stood)


on the wall of the

Bar de la Tempete at

Breast facing the sea

(cest lheure de boire)


on a small brass dial in

    the British Museum

on a silver dial in the

    Museum at Copenhagen

on a gold dial in the

    soul of a Girl

(mais à mon âme la nécessité de ton âme)


                  let the Sun shine

                  (and the Sun shone)


on a dial placed upon the

deck of the Aeolus

in the harbor of New London.

on a dial placed upon the

deck of the Aphrodisiac

in the harbor of Brest

on a dial placed upon

the deck of the Aurora

in the harbor of my Heart

(et quelques-uns en eurent connaissance)


                   let the Sun shine

                   (and the Sun shone)


on pyramids of stones

on upright stones in

ancient graveyards

on upright solitary stones

on bones white-scattered on the plain

the white bones of lions in the sun

the white lion is the phallus of the Sun

I am the Lions I am the Sun


on the dial of Ahaz who

reigned over Judah


on a rude horologe in Egypt

(as a servant earnestly

desireth the shadow)


on the eight dials of

the Tower of the Winds at Athens


on old Roman coins

unburied from the ground


on the twin sundials on

the ramparts of Carcassonne


on the pier at Sunderland

(and where is the sound

              of the pendulum)


on the sun-dials on the mosques

      of Saint Sophia

      of Muhammed

and of Sulimania


on the immense circular

block of carved porphyry

in the Great Square of

the City of Mexico


on Aztec dials


on Inca dials

(Femme offre ton soleil en adoration aux Incas)


on Teutonic dials built

into the walls of

old churches


on the dial of the Durer Melancholia

(above the hour-glass and near the bell)


on the white marble slab

which projects from the

facade of Santa Maria Della Salute

on the Grand Canal Venice


on the dial of the Cathedral at Chartres

(the strong wind and the snows)


on a bedstead made of bronze

(and Heliogabalus had one of solid silver)


on a marriage bed

(lectus genialis)

on a death bed

(lectus funebrius)


on a bed

style à la marquis

(ayant peur de mourir lorsque je couche seul)


on a bed

lit dange


on a flower bed

on a bed of mother-of-pearl

on a bordel bed

on a bed of iniquity

on a virgin bed

on a bed of rock


(To God the Sun Unconquerable)

to the peerless sun, we only


               let the Sun shine

               (and the Sun shone)


                 Soli  Soli  Soli



Harry Crosby


Born 1898. Died 1929. In the last two years of his life, Crosby had developed into a major image-making poet. The myth he unfolded was of the Sun — both as male and female — and he followed its orders through a striking series of structural innovations. Editor of Black Sun Press in Paris (which published works by Hart Crane, Archibald MacLeish, Eugene Jolas, and D. H. Lawrence, along with his own first books), Crosby’s verse experiments included the use of found forms (racing charts, book lists, stock reports, etc.) and concrete poetry, all concerned with sun-related imagery. After his suicide several volumes of his work appeared with introductions by Eliot, Lawrence, and Pound, among others. But, in the anti-“modernist” reaction of the 1930s, he was turned into a virtual nonperson. In the context of a later time, however, the importance of his vision would seem clear — its dimensions suggested by Pound’s earlier summary, viz: “There is more theology in this book of Crosby’s than in all the official ecclesiastical utterance of our generation. Crosby’s life was a religious manifestation. His death was, if you like, a comprehensible emotional act. … A death from excess vitality. A vote of confidence in the cosmos. … Perhaps the best indication one can give of Crosby’s capacity as a writer is to say that his work gains by reading all together. I do not mean this as a slight compliment. It is true of a small minority only.”