Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Man Said to the Universe by Stephen Crane

Yesterday's poem involved Shakespeare's statements about the immortality of his verse. Hubris? Maybe, but it seems to have proven true. Today's poem looks, however, at the flip side. Known best for his realistic prose, including The Red Badge of Courage, one of the texts that was (and still is) widely read in U.S. high schools, Stephen Crane also wrote poems (that he referred to as "lines" - think, perhaps, of Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey", and one can readily see that the use of the word "lines" to discuss poetry isn't his alone).

A Man Said to the Universe
by Stephen Crane

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


Form: Free verse. No fixed metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.

Discussion: It's small, but it packs a wallop, does it not? The man goes with a simple declarative sentence, and the universe answers back with a rather more complicated sort of response. What is the point of the man's statement? Is he simply trying to get a bit of attention, or is he trying for something more? Is he trying to establish some sort of authority? And how does he expect the universe to respond? Probably not the way it does.

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