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."
Stephen Crane (1871-1900) was an American poet, novelist, short story writer and journalist. His life was short, but eventful, and his output prolific. I have it on good authority (ie the internet) that he is regarded as one of the most innovative writers of his generation and that he won international acclaim for his American Civil War novel 'The Red Badge of Courage'.
I came across this poem in 'The Oxford Book of Short Poems' (Oxford University Press, 1985). It was originally published in 'The Black Riders and Other Lines' in 1895 by Copeland and Day. This was his second published book of poetry with a first print run of 500 copies - and a few issued in vellum. Crane apparently referred to them as "lines" rather than poems and they were printed entirely in small capitals.
I like the striking image of the "creature" in this poem, and the repetition of "it" sounds.
Janis Freegard is the editor of this week's Tuesday Poem. She is co-author of AUP New Poets 3 (Auckland University Press, 2008) and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. You can visit other Tuesday Poets from our blog list to the right.