Clash of Crane: “The Black Riders and Other Lines”

As I have previously mentioned, I have a complicated relationship with poetry. But I suppose if this is to be a page dedicated to art and especially literature, I cannot possibly neglect it. For that, I would like to take a look at two of Steven Crane’s poems from the The Black Riders and Other Lines which I find most interesting on their own but even more so when contrasted like the black and white of Crane’s portrait. First, we will take a look at the warming 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.

XVIII, The Black Riders and Other Lines by Stephen Crane

Right, I believe warming or optimistic are good adjectives to describe that poem. A God pleased with the most humble of his servants? What more could humanity wish for? But do not let Crane take you by surprise, for XXV seems anything but optimistic.

Behold, the grave of a wicked man,
And near it, a stern spirit.
There came a drooping maid with violets,
But the spirit grasped her arm.
“No flowers for him,” he said.
The maid wept:
“Ah, I loved him.”
But the spirit, grim and frowning:
“No flowers for him.”
Now, this is it-
If the spirit was just,
Why did the maid weep?

XXV, The Black Riders and Other Lines by Stephen Crane

Crane seems to have found some cold contradiction inside the world of XVIII: imagine someone close to you who best fits the will of God. Now, imagine yourself, sinner you are. If they love you, and you are not to be by their side, what heaven could possibly await them?

But perhaps we would be shortsighted to call the poem purely cynical. The question in lines 10-12 might not be rhetorical, right? Well, I find that possibility even darker and more daunting for the only logical answer to the narrator’s question, if you could call it logical, is faith. Still, I won’t pretend to be an authority. I have not spent hours peering into these poems, or the collection as a whole. I am much too afraid to as of yet so I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

One thing is for sure though, I agree with Elbert Hubbard’s evaluation of The Black Riders and Other Lines, “The ‘Lines’ in The Black Riders seem to me wonderful: charged with meaning like a storage battery. But there is a fine defy in the flavour that warns the reader not to take too much or it may strike in. Who wants a meal of horseradish?” We could peer into these poems endlessly like somebody’s soul.

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