Rogue 5 straight_edited.png

It's Poetry Month!

The month of April is as busy as a plump little bee zipping from flower to flower, spreading pollen and promoting big beautiful Spring blossoms. This month we celebrate numerous occasions including World Health Day, Earth Day, World Autism Awareness month, and National Poetry month, just to name a handful. Aspiring (albeit amateur) poet that I am, I want to commemorate National Poetry month by highlighting a favorite poem of mine each week through this month. I'll start this week with "In the Desert" by Stephen Crane.

"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.”

This poem may seem a bit dark and morbid, perhaps even devoid of hope and promise, but to me I see acceptance. I see acceptance of one's own humanity (or lack thereof) in its flawed and imperfect state. This is a portrayal of embracing the darkness and negative emotion within oneself and owning it, even enjoying it. An element of greed is present in the self-devouring, and it is done unashamedly.

There are two figures in this poem: the viewer and the creature. Found in the desert, a vast landscape often seen as bleak and stark, the creature is indeed likened to a beast of the wild–separating him from the soundness and reason of humanity. He squats upon the ground like an animal, feasting on his own heart–an apt portrayal of self-mutilation and self-destruction. He may as well be a ravenous wolf tearing into a bloody carcass. The viewer displays a casual demeanor as he happens across this scene, perhaps too wonderstruck to flee (as I certainly would have had I been wandering the desert and came across the devouring of a vital organ).


Rather than show disgust or fear, the viewer asks the creature a peculiar question: "Is it good, friend?" Curiosity. The desire to know if such resolution is satisfying.

The creature replies that it is bitter (mmmm, all that iron) but the poem breaks into a second stanza where the creature indubitably concludes "but I like it / because it is bitter / and because it is my heart " The creature appears to relish the bitterness of his heart, something many would consider selfish and anti-empathic, yet the creature portrays an awareness about himself that many humans go unaware of for most of their lives. The fact that the viewer doesn't run away in terror and even calls the creature "friend" shows a kinship that, while isn't explained, connects the two subjects in a most basic way: perhaps every man has a creature waiting for him in the desert to be discovered and understood.

Stephen Crane was a prolific author and poet of late 19th Century America. He's perhaps most known for his novel, The Red Badge of Courage, and various short stories such as "The Open Boat." Crane is praised for his elements of American Naturalism and Impressionism. My first experience with Crane was in reading The Red Badge of Courage in my high school English class. I despised reading this novel and it had been the bane of my teenage existence for the duration in which we studied it. His poetry, on the other hand, drew me in and fascinated me with its thematic displays of death, humanity, and existence. Crane remains one of my favorite poets by far, and I strive to write of my own existence in the same matter of fact, thought-provoking manner.