Who Was Samuel Greenberg?

Complete Poems of Hart Crane

Samuel Greenberg wrote visionary lyric poems highly inspired by Emerson. His poetry has largely been forgotten, but the only reason it is remembered at all is because Hart Crane plagiarized his work. Greenberg died in a hospital on Ward’s Island at the age of twenty-three. Years later his poems were published with a lavish introduction by Allen Tate, who possesses the most prominent forehead in modern literature. Crane, the better poet of the two (and the more famous), threw himself into the sea at the age of thirty-one. His body was never found. His collected work was recently published in a definitive edition by the Library of America. Below is a brief comparison.

First the Greenberg original (I’ve regularized some of the spelling):


By a peninsula, the painter sat and
Sketched the uneven valley groves.
The apostle gave alms to the
Meek, the volcano burst
In fusive sulphur and hurled
Rocks and ore into the air.
Heaven’s sudden change at
The drawing tempestuous
Darkening shade of Dense clouded Hues
The wanderer soon chose
His spot of rest, they bore the
Chosen hero upon their shoulders
Whom they strangly admired – as,
The Beach tide Summer of people desired.

Compare with the more famous poem by Hart Crane:

Emblems of Conduct

By a peninsula the wanderer sat and sketched
The uneven valley graves. While the apostle gave
Alms to the meek the volcano burst
With sulphur and aureate rocks…
For joy rides in stupendous coverings
Luring the living into spiritual gates.

Orators follow the universe
And radio the complete laws to the people.
The apostle conveys thought through discipline.
Bowls and cups fill historians with adorations–
Dull lips commemorating spiritual gates.

The wanderer later chose this spot of rest
Where marble clouds support the sea
And where was finally born a hero.
By that time summer and smoke were past.
Dolphins still played, arching the horizons,
But only to build memories of spiritual gates.


2 Responses to “Who Was Samuel Greenberg?”

  1. 1 Leo Daugherty April 28, 2008 at 9:17 am

    We need a new edition of Greenberg. He is unjustifiably forgotten as a poet in his own right whose imagistic genius so inspired Hart Crane.

  2. 2 uspoetsabroad May 28, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Absolutely! Perhaps the Library of America (anyone listening?) would consider doing a volume of Greenberg for the American Poets series?

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Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."


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