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In the desert -- Stephen Crane

(Poem #196) In the desert
  In the desert
  I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
  Who, squatting upon the ground,
  Held his heart in his hands,
  And ate of it.
  I said: "Is it good, friend?"
  "It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
  "But I like it
  Because it is bitter,
  And because it is my heart."
-- Stephen Crane
There are a number of persistent themes that run through Crane's poems.
Among the most noticeable are human nature, love and the exploration of
man's relations to God, religion, truth, and nature, mostly with a strong
undercurrent of irony. Whatever he is writing about, though, there is one
feature common to nearly every poem - it makes the reader *think*.

Crane is a master of the paradigm shift, the few words that suddenly twist
the reader's world view around, exposing paradox and uncertainty where
before was only smooth complacency. 'Zen' is a badly overused word, and I
won't pretend to know what it properly means, but Crane certainly fits the
public perception of what Zen should be - thought provoking, leaving no
assumption unchallenged, and with multiple meanings and dichotomies
coexisting in every piece.

A final note - the piece above is an excerpt from a larger work, 'The Black
Riders and Other Lines'. Like Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, it is a series of
somewhat disconnected short pieces, but, again like the Rubaiyat, the pieces
take on a whole new dimension when read together - not necessarily as a
larger 'whole', but simply because each piece develops and reinforces the
themes, the images and the atmosphere of all the rest. A link to the
complete text of the Black Riders is included below.

Note: The poem was untitled, being merely verse III of The Black Riders; I
      merely used the first line as a title.


Crane, Stephen

   b. Nov. 1, 1871, Newark, N.J., U.S.
   d. June 5, 1900, Badenweiler, Baden, Ger.

   American novelist, poet, and short-story writer, best known for his
   novels Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) and The Red Badge of
   Courage (1895) and the short stories "The Open Boat," "The Bride Comes
   to Yellow Sky," and "The Blue Hotel."

For a complete biography see <>


    After The Red Badge of Courage, Crane's few attempts at
   the novel were of small importance, but he achieved an extraordinary
   mastery of the short story.


   In the best of these tales Crane showed a rare ability to shape colourful
   settings, dramatic action, and perceptive characterization into ironic
   explorations of human nature and destiny. In even briefer scope,
   rhymeless, cadenced and "free" in form, his unique, flashing poetry was
   extended into War Is Kind (1899).

   Stephen Crane first broke new ground in Maggie, which evinced an
   uncompromising (then considered sordid) realism that initiated the
   literary trend of the succeeding generations--i.e., the sociological
   novels of Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and James T. Farrell. Crane
   intended The Red Badge of Courage to be "a psychological portrayal of
   fear," and reviewers rightly praised its psychological realism. The first
   nonromantic novel of the Civil War to attain widespread popularity, The
   Red Badge of Courage turned the tide of the prevailing convention about
   war fiction and established a new, if not unprecedented, one. The secret
   of Crane's success as war correspondent, journalist, novelist,
   short-story writer, and poet lay in his achieving tensions between irony
   and pity, illusion and reality, or the double mood of hope contradicted
   by despair. Crane was a great stylist and a master of the contradictory

        -- EB


   Complete text of 'The Black Riders and Other Lines' can be found at the
   Poets' Corner, <[broken link]>.
   There's also a nice paragraph on why Crane is poetry, though, quoting
   from the site,
       "Crane himself declined to call them poems, referring to them
       only as 'lines'."

   There's a Crane site at
   <[broken link]>

   and a nice biographical snippet at
   <[broken link]>


43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

my heart

Anonymous said...

In the desert
Three empty women
Still call for eyes;
They take the sight of those who choose
to live it. Believe it
Or leave it:
the answer's the same.

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