A Few Favorite Poems (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What are some poems you enjoy from classic authors?

Although Stephen Crane (1871-1900), author of The Red Badge of Courage, may be best known as a novelist in the naturalist tradition, he also released two volumes of poetry: The Black Riders and Other Lines and War Is Kind and Other Lines.  His poems run the gamut from reflecting on life, the relationship of God and man, the nature of war, love, and more. They often strike questioning or contradictory notes with Crane seeming to teeter between belief and doubt, hope and despair, idealism and realism. They also have a tendency to focus on unexpected moments or to depict a keen sense of irony, such as in “Fast rode the knight,” where at first Crane seems to depict a romantic vision of war, only to end by illustrating war’s brutal effects on the innocent:

Fast rode the knight
With spurs, hot and reeking,
Ever waving an eager sword,
“To save my lady!”
Fast rode the knIght,
And leaped from saddle to war.
Men of steel flickered and gleamed
Like riot of silver lights,
And the gold of the knight’s good banner
Still waved on a castle wall.

. . . . .
A horse,
Blowing, staggering, bloody thing,
Forgotten at foot of castle wall.
A horse
Dead at foot of castle wall.

The cruelty of war is a theme Crane returns to again and again, as in his longer poem “Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.” This poem expertly juxtaposes all the words of empty comfort and propaganda that depicts war as a shining, splendid thing with the effects of the people left behind. This excerpt shows a certain kinship with the work of Wilfred Owen, the WWI poet whose works revealed the horror of war, in contrast to some of his more patriotic contemporaries:

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.

Still other poems from Crane grapple with questions about justice, mercy, death, God, and romance. But one of my personal favorites is one on the nature of writing:

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page,
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.

Here he depicts writing as a violent, horrifying act, one that probes his innermost heart and finds terrible things there. It is an interesting contrast to depictions of writing as peaceful, illuminating endeavors where one finds one’s inner self, passes on a vision, or creates something beautiful. Crane’s poem acknowledges the darkness inside people as well, and suggests that the act of creation can simultaneously have a destructive quality. Or perhaps that writing actually exorcises the demons? As with so many of his poems, what exactly he means to say, what stance he is taking, remains unclear, and completely opposing interpretations of his lines seem equally valid.

Crane’s poems are in the public domain so, if you want to read more, they’re just a search away.

Mini Reviews: Stephen Crane’s Short Stories

Civil War Button

Introduction

Stephen Crane, best known for his Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage and his 1893 novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, also wrote poetry and a number of short stories.  Below are a few mini reviews for some of his stories set in the Civil War.

“A Mystery of Heroism”

Thirsty and taunted by a distant well, separated from his regiment by a field under artillery bombardment, soldier Fred Collins ponders the qualities that make a hero.  Crane’s trademark realism and unique descriptions make reading this an incredible sensory experience.   Check ou this representative paragraph:

“As the eyes of half the regiment swept in one machine-like movement, there was an instant’s picture of a horse in a great convulsive leap of a death-wound and a rider leaning back with a crooked arm and spread fingers before his face. On the ground was the crimson terror of an exploding shell, with fibres of flame that seemed like lances. A glittering bugle swung clear of the rider’s back as fell headlong the horse and the man. In the air was an odour as from a conflagration.”

“Crimson terror of an exploding shell”–talk about a remarkable gift with words.

“A Gray Sleeve”

This was always one of my favorite Crane stories because, though it’s set during  a battle, it’s really a romance.  A group of Union soldiers come upon a house and think they see a gray sleeve at the window and so attempt to search the house.  A young girl, however, thwarts them.  The depiction of the unnamed girl does make her seem a bit too childlike for modern tastes, but there’s still something endearing about the Southern girl, the Union captain, and their forbidden love.  The captain in particular is really endearing in his switch from confident soldier to uncertain lover:

But now he began, for one thing, to wonder if his uniform was so dusty
and old in appearance. Moreover, he had a feeling that his face was
covered with a compound of dust, grime, and perspiration. He took a step
forward and said: “I didn’t mean to frighten you.” But his voice was
coarse from his battle-howling. It seemed to him to have hempen fibres
in it.

“Three Miraculous Soldiers”

A young girl, Mary, discovers three Confederate soldiers in the barn and offers to feed them–but then a troop of Union soldiers arrives!  Mary tries to hide her new friends in the feed box, but worries they will be discovered and captured when the Union forces set up camp in the yard and take over the barn to house another prisoner.  Mary’s curiosity, fear, and determination make the pages of this short story come alive as she watches the events of history unfold.  And, in typical Crane style, the surprise ending does not disappoint.

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