Poems by Stephen Crane

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From The Black Riders  (1895)



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."




A god in wrath

Was beating a man;

He cuffed him loudly

With thunderous blows

That rang and rolled over the earth.

All people came running.

The man screamed and struggled,

And bit madly at the feet of the god.

The people cried,

"Ah, what a wicked man!"

And "Ah, what a redoubtable god!"





I walked in a desert.

And I cried,

"Ah, God, take 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."




A man feared that he might find an assassin;

Another that he might find a victim.

One was more wise than the other.


From War is Kind



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.




To the maiden

The sea was blue meadow,

Alive with little froth-people


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.



There was a man with tongue of wood

Who essayed to sing,

And in truth it was lamentable.

But there was one who heard

The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood

And knew what the man

Wished to sing,

And with that the singer was content.



A man said to the universe:

"Sir I exist!"

"However," replied the universe,

"The fact has not created in me

A sense of obligation."




Published in The Philistine (June 1898); see the original publication at http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/crane/pics4.html


When a people reach the top of a hill,

Then does God lean toward them,

Shortens tongues and lengthens arms.

A vision of their dead comes to the weak.

The moon shall not be too old

Before the new battalions rise,

Blue battalions.

The moon shall not be too old

When the children of change shall fall

Before the new battalions,

The blue battalions.

Mistakes and virtues will be trampled deep.

A church and a thief shall fall together.

A sword will come at the bidding of the eyeless,

The God-led, turning only to beckon,

Swinging a creed like a censer

At the head of the new battalions,

Blue battalions.

March the tools of nature's impulse,

Men born of wrong, men born of right,

Men of the new battalions,

The blue battalions.

The clang of swords is Thy wisdom,

The wounded make gestures like Thy Son's;

The feet of mad horses is one part --

Ay, another is the hand of a mother on the brow of a youth.

Then, swift as they charge through a shadow,

The men of the new battalions,

Blue battalions --

God lead them high, God lead them far,

God lead them far, God lead them high,

These new battalions,

The blue battalions.



“A man adrift on a slim spar”
First published by The Bookman in 1929.


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 pity 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.


A 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.