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Monday, January 17, 2011

Number 40: Stephen Crane "The Wayfarer..."

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."

--Stephen Crane

Hap Notes: I thought this might be an appropriate selection for MLK Day seeing as how Dr. King genuinely did speak truth to power and not everyone accepted that with grace and often reacted from fear.

Stephen Crane (1871-1900) is not as well-known for his poetry as he is for his classic novels (Red Badge of Courage, Maggie Girl of the Streets) and his short stories (The Open Boat, The Blue Hotel). Everybody read at least one of his books or stories in school if they went to a school that was even remotely literate.

I've always liked his poetry best, though. His spiny, compressed, sardonic parable-like verse is thought provoking and often elicits a wry and sad smile. He uses no rhyme and the meter is informal. It's over 100 years old yet it retains its modern detachment which isn't particularly surprising since Crane was one of the originators of the modern voice in prose; realistic, impressionistic and psychological.

Crane lived a short life (29 years) yet his output was generous; five books of fiction, two of poetry, two of war stories, three of short stories and lots of reportage. His friends included Joseph Conrad, Hamlin Garland, William Dean Howells and H.G. Wells. Hemingway was an admirer of his work.

The poem above probably needs no extra information to be understood but a good question to ask is, "Do we blame the wayfarer for not wanting to get cut/hurt? Do we accept the truth when it is painful?" The truth may set us free but it is not without peril. There is no old saying that goes, "The truth will make you safe." We maybe tend to think of truth as a simple thing but Crane implies it is not, and it is, at the very least, difficult and sharp.

Here's a good Crane quote: "Personally I am aware that my work does not amount to a string of dried beans- I always calmly admit it. But I also know that I do the best that is within me, without regard to cheers or damnation."

And another: "There is a sublime egotism in talking of honesty. I, however, do not say that I am honest. I merely say that I am as nearly honest as a weak mental machinery will allow. This aim in life struck me as being the only thing worth while. A man is sure to fail at it, but there is something in the failure."

You can read more Crane here:

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