April 27, 2009

Stephen Crane


Crane (in white suit) as a reporter in the American attack of Puerto Rico

Stephen Crane [USA]
1871-1900

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1871, Stephen Crane was the fourteenth child of Reverend Jonathan Crane. Both of his parents were highly religious leaders in the Methodist Church, and over the years one of Crane’s most noted traits was his rebellion against his religious upbringing.
As a teenager he worked at a news agency run by his brother, and later left for college with the goal of becoming a reporter. He published his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, in a private printing and under a pseudonym in 1893. The novel attracted the attention of critics such as William Dean Howells and Hamlin Garland, who later championed his novel The Red Badge of Courage, published in 1895.

The same year, Crane published his first book of poetry, The Black Riders and Other Lines, again privately printed. The typography of this book was unusual, in that the poems appeared entirely in capital letters without titles or punctuation. Reviewers of the time—and some later critics—heaped abuse on his poetry, describing them as “garbage,” “rot,” and “lunatic.” But the success of his novel of the same year, along with the reaction, made him internationally famous.

Personally, Crane claimed to like his poetry much better than The Red Badge of Courage. Over the next years, Crane devoted himself to journalism and wrote numerous short stories, including the brilliant tale, “The Open Boat.” His work as a reporter during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, however, led to ill health, and in 1899 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The same year he moved with his common-law wife, Cora Taylor, to an unheated English manor-house outside of Rye. Most of his time he spent feverously writing, but Crane did develop literary friendships with figures such as Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford and H. G. Wells. While in England, he published his second collection of poetry, War Is Kind. His tuberculosis, however, had worsened, and in 1900, at the age of 28, he died in a German sanatorium.

BOOKS OF POETRY

The Black Riders and Other Lines (Boston: Copeland and Day, 1895); War Is Kind (New York: F. A. Stokes, 1899); Collected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930).


From The Black Riders

I

BLACK RIDERS CAME FROM THE SEA.
THERE WAS CLANG AND CLANG OF SPEAR AND SHIELD,
AND CLASH AND CLASH OF HOOF AND HEEL,
WILD SHUTS AND THE WAVE OF HAIR
IN THE RUSH UPON THE WIND:
THUS THE RIDE OF SIN.


XXIV

I SAW A MAN PURSUING THE HORIZON
ROUND AND ROUND THEY SPED.
I WAS DISTURBED AT THIS;
I ACCOSTED THE MAN.
“IT IS FUTILE,” I SAID,
“YOU CAN NEVER ———“
“YOU LIE,” HE CRIED,
AND RAN ON.




XXXVI

I MET A SEER.
HE HELD IN HIS HANDS
THE BOOK OF WISDOM.
“SIR,” I ADDRESSED HIM,
“LET ME READ.”
“CHILD——“ HE BEGAN.
“SIR,” I SAID,
“THINK NOT THAT I AM A CHILD,
“FOR ALREADY I NOW MUCH
“OF WHAT WHICH YOU HOLD.
“AYE, MUCH.”

HE SMILED.
THEN HE OPENED THE BOOK.
AND HELD IT BEFORE ME.—
STRANGE THAT I SHOULD HAVE GROWN SO SUDDENLY BLIND.


XLII

I WALKED IN A DESERT.
AND I CRIED,
“AH, GOD, TAKEN ME FROM THIS PLACE!”
A VOICE SAID, “IT IS NO DESERT.”
I CRIED, “WELL, BUT——
“THE SAND, THE HEAT, THE VACANT HORIZON.”
A VOICE SAID, “IT IS NO DESERT.”


(from Black Riders and Other Lines, 1895)



from War Is Kind


[I]

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
and the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die
The unexplained glory flies above them
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom———
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift, blazing flag of the regiment
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die
Point for them the virtue of slaughter
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

(from War Is Kind, 1899)



[VI]


I explain the silvered passing of a ship at night,
The sweep of each sad lost wave,
The dwindling boom of the steel ting’s striving,
The little cry of a man to a man,
A shadow falling across the greyer night,
And the sinking of the small star;
Then the waste, the far waste of waters,
And the soft lashing of black waves
For long and in loneliness.

Remember, thou, O ship of love,
Thou leavest a far waste of waters,
And the soft lashing of black waves
For long and in loneliness.


(from War Is Kind, 1899)


[XI]

On the desert
A silence from the moon’s deepest valley.
Fire rays fall athwart the robes
Of hooded men, squat and dumb.
Before them, a woman
Moves to the blowing of shrill whistles
And distant thunder of drums,
While mystic things, sinuous, dull with terrible color,
Sleepily fondle her body
Or move at her will, swishing stealthily over the sand.
The snakes whisper softly;
The whispering, whispering snakes,
Dreaming and swaying and staring,
But always whispering, softly whispering.
The wind streams from the lone reaches
Of Arabia, solemn with night,
And the wild fire makes shimmer of blood
Over the robes of the hooded men
Squat and dumb.
Bands of moving bronze, emerald, yellow,
Circle the throat and the arms of her,
And over the sands serpents move warily
Slow, menacing and submissive,
Swinging to the whistle and drums,
The whispering, whispering snakes,
Dreaming and swaying and staring,
But always whispering, softly whispering.
The dignity of the accursed;
The glory of slavery, despair, death,
Is in the dance of the whispering snakes.

(from War Is Kind, 1899)



[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.”


(from War Is Kind, 1899)




A man adrift on a slim spar

A man adrift on a slim spar
A horizon smaller than the rim of a bottle
Tented waves rearing lashy dark points
The near whine of froth in circles.

God is cold.

The incessant raise and swing of the sea
And growl after growl of crest
The sinkings, green, seething, endless
The upheaval half-completed
God is cold.

The seas are in the hollow of The Hand;
Oceans may be turned to a spray
Raining down through the stars
Because of a gesture of pit toward a babe.
Oceans may become grey ashes,
Die with a long moan and a roar
Amid the tumult of the fishes
And the cries of the ships,
Because The Hand beckons the mice.

The horizon smaller than a doomed assassin’s cap,
Inky, surging tumults
A reeling, drunken sky and no sky
A pale hand sliding from a polished spar.

God is cold.

The puff of a coat imprisoning air.
A face kissing the water-death
A weary slow sway of a lost hand
And the sea, the moving sea, the sea.

God is cold.

(from Collected Poems, 1930)

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