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Scarrier than Halloween



I have recently updated Stephen Crane's War is Kind and Other Lines to the latest Bookshelf format.  Crane was a Journalist, Author, and Poet, known for his war dispatches, and in his novel, The Red badge of Courage.

Crane also wrote two books of blank verse - he called them 'lines' instead of poems. Most of them reflect his grim, damaged view of the world - immersed in war and its tragedies; Irate at the inequity and injustice he had observed in early industrialized urban life in New York - things Upton Sincliar would write about a few years later in Chicago. Crane also was a very prolific writer but never seemed to make financial ends meet. He was often in ill health, beset by critics both real and perceived, and frequently criticized for his associations.

Little wonder that his poems have such a somber tone - Not simply ironic, but darker - like Ambrose Bierce's short stories. Much of Crane's view of life can be summed up by line number three:

III

To the maiden
The sea was blue meadow,
Alive with little froth-people
Singing.

To the sailor, wrecked,
The sea was dead grey walls
Superlative in vacancy,
Upon which nevertheless at fateful time
Was written
The grim hatred of nature.

Or the better known line number twenty-one:

XXI

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."


Crane's subject matter is the indifference (or hostility) of nature, and the failings of man and all of his institutions - from the prophet to the politician, from the church to the newspaper. Many of his poems revolve around the falibility of the individual - sometimes we are clueless, and sometimes we know better, but make the wrong choice anyway:

XXII

When the prophet, a complacent fat man,
Arrived at the mountain-top,
He cried: "Woe to my knowledge!
I intended to see good white lands
And bad black lands,
But the scene is grey."

XIII

The wayfarer,
Perceiving the pathway to truth,
Was struck with astonishment.
It was thickly grown with weeds.
"Ha," he said,
"I see that none has passed here
In a long time."
Later he saw that each weed
Was a singular knife.
"Well," he mumbled at last,
"Doubtless there are other roads."

But not every one of Cranes lines is a recipe for depression. Take this one for example, reminiscent of Yeats' Cloths of Heaven:

XXIV

Ay, workman, make me a dream,
A dream for my love.
Cunningly weave sunlight,
Breezes, and flowers.
Let it be of the cloth of meadows.
And -- good workman --
And let there be a man walking thereon.

So judge for yourself which is scarier in the end -- the contrived stories that surround All Hallow's Eve (Halloween), or the dark, mysterious allegories of Stephen Crane? And mind you, beware the snakes.

--Steve

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