A Streetcar And A Broken Tower
In the published edition of his masterwork, "A Streetcar Named Desire", Tennessee Williams uses as an epigraph the following stanza from "The Broken Tower", probably the final poem written by the American romantic poet Hart Crane (1899-1932):
"And so was it I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice."
Crane wrote this difficult poem in 1932, shortly before his suicide. The poem speaks of Crane's efforts to capture the fire of the imagination and the gift of love in the course of an unhappy life. With his passionate romanticism and his lyricism, Crane was a deep and lifelong influence on Williams.
It helped to think about the importance of Crane's lines when I revisited "Streetcar". They capture something of the way we are to understand Blanche DuBois The unhappy heroine of Williams's play did indeed live in a "broken world" of sundered dreams. She lost the remnants of Belle Reve, the family plantation in Mississippi, together with her self-respect. On her fateful visit to her sister Stella and her husband, the coarse, brutal Stanley Kowalski in New Orleans where the play takes place,Blanche's world becomes broken again when she loses her last chance at love and her sanity.
All Blanche has are her dreams and her attempt to find "the visionary company of love." She is a woman of illusions who attempts to hide the sordid details of her own past, including the suicide of her young husband, her attendant nymphomania, and her alcoholism from herself and from others. Her illusions cannot survive realistic scrutiny, particularly when they are exposed to Stanley. Blanche is unable to hold on to her last "desperate choice", similarly to the speaker in Crane's poem. As his own life progressed, Williams came increasingly to identify himself with Blanche DuBois, and perhaps these lines from Hart Crane apply to Williams view of himself as well.
With its lurid, pulpy, and melodramatic story, Streetcar has always been a tempting target for critics. But in beautifully poetic language, the play raises certain timeless themes, including the search for love, the powerful and destructive force of sexuality, and the centrality of romance and imagination to give life meaning in a world of brute fact. In a short introduction he wrote to the play called "A Streetcar named Success" Williams suggested, following William Saroyan, that the theme of the play was that "purity of the heart is the one success worth having. `In the time of your life -live!'" The play and Blanche come to a sad end. But capturing Blanche's story in art gives the reader or viewer of the play a power to persevere, similar to the power given to art and love in Hart Crane's "The Broken Tower."