May 27, 2012

Crane: little claim to commendation

"The book is a collection of impressions, with little of rhyme or rhythm," according to the reviewer in the May 27, 1899 issue of the New York Times. The book under scrutiny was Stephen Crane's War is Kind — though the reviewer was not kind: "Judged by almost any poetic standard... the verses of Mr. Crane have little claim to commendation."

Calling him "unconventional" in both thought and expression, the reviewer compared him to Walt Whitman but, ultimately, not comparable to the "dignity of the best work of the modern masters." The reviewer did admit, however, that Crane possessed "verbal magic" for his ability to paint with words, much like what he exhibited in his prose work The Red Badge of Courage. More distinctively, "he condenses sentences, pages even, into a single word." Even so, the reviewer ultimately determines the book is "closely akin to a genuine disappointment."

Even so, the review singles out some of Crane's poems as being good, including the title poem and the following untitled one:

"I have heard the sunset song of the birches,
A white melody in the silence,
I have seen a quarrel of the pines.
At nightfall
The little grasses have rushed by me
With the wind men.
These things have I lived," quoth the maniac,
"Possessing only eyes and ears.
But you —
You don green spectacles before you look at roses."
When I am fast asleep,
Then tell my love the secret
That I have died to keep.

*Gratitude is due to Richard M. Weatherford for including this review in his book Stephen Crane (1973), a substantial collection of contemporary reviews of Crane's writings.

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