Stephen Crane (1871-1900)


Selected verses from War is Kind and Other Lines (1899)



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.




   




VI

I explain the silvered passing of a ship at night,
The sweep of each sad lost wave,
The dwindling boom of the steel thing’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.




   




VII

“I have heard the sunset song of the birches,
A white melody in the silence,
I have seen a quarrel of the pines.
At nightfall
The little grasses have rushed by me
With the wind men.
These things have I lived,” quoth the maniac,
“Possessing only eyes and ears.
But you—
You don green spectacles before you look at roses.”




   




IX

Forth went the candid man
And spoke freely to the wind—
When he looked about him he was in a far strange country.

Forth went the candid man
And spoke freely to the stars—
Yellow light tore sight from his eyes.

“My good fool,” said a learned bystander,
“Your operations are mad.”

“You are too candid,” cried the candid man,
And when his stick left the head of the learned bystander
It was two sticks.




   




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.”




   




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.”




   




XXVI

The trees in the garden rained flowers.
Children ran there joyously.
They gathered the flowers
Each to himself.
Now there were some
Who gathered great heaps—
Having opportunity and skill—
Until, behold, only chance blossoms
Remained for the feeble.
Then a little spindling tutor
Ran importantly to the father, crying:
“Pray, come hither!
See this unjust thing in your garden!”
But when the father had surveyed,
He admonished the tutor:
“Not so, small sage!
This thing is just.
For, look you,
Are not they who possess the flowers
Stronger, bolder, shrewder
Than they who have none?
Why should the strong—
The beautiful strong—
Why should they not have the flowers?”
Upon reflection, the tutor bowed to the ground,
“My lord,” he said,
“The stars are displaced
By this towering wisdom.”






Selected verses from The Black Riders and Other Lines (1900)



III

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.”




   




VI

God fashioned the ship of the world carefully.
With the infinite skill of an All-Master
Made He the hull and the sails,
Held He the rudder
Ready for adjustment.
Erect stood He, scanning His work proudly.
Then—at fateful time—a wrong called,
And God turned, heeding.
Lo, the ship, at this opportunity, slipped slyly,
Making cunning noiseless travel down the ways.
So that, forever rudderless, it went upon the seas
Going ridiculous voyages,
Making quaint progress,
Turning as with serious purpose
Before stupid winds.
And there were many in the sky
Who laughed at this thing.




   




IX

I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
Running, leaping,
And carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!”




   




XVII

There were many who went in huddled procession,
They knew not whither;
But, at any rate, success or calamity
Would attend all in equality.

There was one who sought a new road.
He went into direful thickets,
And ultimately he died thus, alone;
But they said he had courage.




   




XVIII

In heaven,
Some little blades of grass
Stood before God.
“What did you do?”
Then all save one of the little blades
Began eagerly to relate
The merits of their lives.
This one stayed a small way behind,
Ashamed.
Presently, God said,
“And what did you do?”
The little blade answered, “Oh my Lord,
Memory is bitter to me,
For, if I did good deeds,
I know not of them.”
Then God, in all His splendor,
Arose from His throne.
“Oh, best little blade of grass!” He said.




   




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.




   




XXVIII

“Truth,” said a traveller,
“Is a rock, a mighty fortress;
Often have I been to it,
Even to its highest tower,
From whence the world looks black.”

“Truth,” said a traveller,
“Is a breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom;
Long have I pursued it,
But never have I touched
The hem of its garment.”

And I believed the second traveller;
For truth was to me
A breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom,
And never had I touched
The hem of its garment.




   




XXXI

Many workmen
Built a huge ball of masonry
Upon a mountain-top.
Then they went to the valley below,
And turned to behold their work.
“It is grand,” they said;
They loved the thing.

Of a sudden, it moved:
It came upon them swiftly;
It crushed them all to blood.
But some had opportunity to squeal.




   




XXXV

A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;
He climbed for it,
And eventually he achieved it—
It was clay.

Now this is the strange part:
When the man went to the earth
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold.
Now this is the strange part:
It was a ball of gold.
Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.




   




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 know much
Of that 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.




   




XXXIX

The livid lightnings flashed in the clouds;
The leaden thunders crashed.
A worshipper raised his arm.
“Hearken! Hearken! The voice of God!”

“Not so,” said a man.
“The voice of God whispers in the heart
So softly
That the soul pauses,
Making no noise,
And strives for these melodies,
Distant, sighing, like faintest breath,
And all the being is still to hear.”




   




XLVII

“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.”




   




LI

A man went before a strange God—
The God of many men, sadly wise.
And the deity thundered loudly,
Fat with rage, and puffing.
“Kneel, mortal, and cringe
And grovel and do homage
To My Particularly Sublime Majesty.”

The man fled.

Then the man went to another God—
The God of his inner thoughts.
And this one looked at him
With soft eyes
Lit with infinite comprehension,
And said, “My poor child!”




   




LV

A man toiled on a burning road,
Never resting.
Once he saw a fat, stupid ass
Grinning at him from a green place.
The man cried out in rage,
“Ah! Do not deride me, fool!
I know you—
All day stuffing your belly,
Burying your heart
In grass and tender sprouts:
It will not suffice you.”
But the ass only grinned at him from the green place.




   




LVI

A man feared that he might find an assassin;
Another that he might find a victim.
One was more wise than the other.




   




LVIII

The sage lectured brilliantly.
Before him, two images:
“Now this one is a devil,
And this one is me.”
He turned away.
Then a cunning pupil
Changed the positions.

Turned the sage again:
“Now this one is a devil,
And this one is me.”
The pupils sat, all grinning,
And rejoiced in the game.
But the sage was a sage.




   




LXVII

God lay dead in heaven;
Angels sang the hymn of the end;
Purple winds went moaning,
Their wings drip-dripping
With blood
That fell upon the earth.
It, groaning thing,
Turned black and sank.
Then from the far caverns
Of dead sins
Came monsters, livid with desire.
They fought,
Wrangled over the world,
A morsel.
But of all sadness this was sad—
A woman’s arms tried to shield
The head of a sleeping man
From the jaws of the final beast.