Beyond the Red Badge

Did you know that Stephen Crane, famous for his novel, “The Red Badge of Courage,” was also a poet? I discovered this several years back, I think in my senior year of high school. I was never particularly interested in Crane until I found his poetry. Don’t really like his prose but boy do I love the poems! I love his sense of irony, his cynicism that sometimes left room for hope but more often seemed desperate – and desolate. Take a look at some of my favorites:

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

Think as I think
“Think as I think,” said a man,
“Or you are abominably wicked;
You are a toad.”

And after I had thought of it,
I said, “I will, then, be a toad.”

Have you ever made a just man?
“Have you ever made a just man?”
“Oh, I have made three,” answered God,
“But two of them are dead,
And the third —
Listen! Listen!
And you will hear the thud of his defeat.”

I was in the darkness
I was in the darkness;
I could not see my words
Nor the wishes of my heart.
Then suddenly there was a great light —

“Let me into the darkness again.”

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.”

Crane’s thoughts may seem maudlin but I think you have to admit they make you think. His poetry often included God or a faceless, authoritative voice but I think his opinion of God/authority was not a kind one. He seems to hold no patience for those who won’t face life head-on and follow their own beliefs rather to bending to the view of authority. I wonder if he was as outspoken publicly as he was in his writing?

3 thoughts on “Beyond the Red Badge

  1. His writing was as public as you could get in those days.Cynical maybe. But probably equally bold. Although, would he have been bolder to posit no God at all?


  2. I meant to question if Crane was as outspoken in person. I was thinking that sometimes writers express in writing things they might not say in person. According to Crane\’s biography, he was the son of a Methodist minister. Reason enough to view God as angry and punishing. I\’d have to look to see if any of his poetry implies the non-existence of God.If none do then I guess the question is, is that because he believed in God or because he was not bold enough to speak his lack of belief?


  3. Stephan Crane has been my favorite poet since I picked up your copy of his book of poetry in high school looking for inspirational poems, and found exactly what I was looking for. I think my favorites are \”A man said to the universe\” and \”The Wayfarer\”. Although I tried to read \”The Red Badge of Courage\” and \”Maggie, Girl of the Streets\” and wasn\’t impressed.


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