Heres a virtual movie of the celebrated American author and poet Stephen Crane reading his exquisite bittersweet little poem "In the Desert"First Published May 11, 1895 in his volume of poems "The Black Riders & Other Lines"
The poems tone, along with its syntax, is quite blatant, as is its subject. This total integration of sound, subject and structure is what makes this poem so shockingly indifferent, and beautiful. With just a couple of words and lines, Crane is able to establish an emotion and idea within the readers mind, even though it may be subconscious.
Using words like, desert, naked, bestial, two lines in, the poem establishes an astringent tone. The use of the word squatting only adds to the inhuman image of this creature in the desert. Then comes the shocking, but calmly toned line concerning the eating of his own heart. Then in the sixth line we have the narrator asking the creature "is it good, friend", asking as if he is just another fellow human.
Now this sixth line is pivotal due to the fact that the narrator calls this bestial looking creature 'friend', for we get a sense of the narrator's indifferent reaction to the sight of the self-deprecating creature. This phrase establishes a lost humanity within the creature, as if he has lost his own human nature, but still has enough of it to be recognizable.
Then come the final four lines which act as a big payoff, though no different in tone than the previous lines. The creature states that it is "bitter—bitter", and then in an almost innocent and childlike way he says "but I like it,/because it is bitter/and because it is my heart", there ending the poem.
Now the two most important metaphors in the poem are; the desert and the eating of one's own heart. The desert being a (ironically) cold, bitter place, where human life and vegetation are nonexistent and is completely lacking in water (water being a symbol of hope in The Waste Land). And just as the desert is bitter, so is his heart, his emotions, which he has come to digest and accept. Thus in accepting his life's own absurdity, he gets used to it, and even begins to like its taste.
The eating of his own heart in the desert can be interpreted as him burying his own sentimental emotions which are blinding him of the real world, and digesting the absurdity of his own place and his own surroundings, which is the bitter and indifferent desert. And in doing so, he becomes naked, he begins to appear primitive, as one of the early hominids before civilization, when they were forced to face the wild. What this creature is doing, is an act that Crane is asking us all to carry out; acceptance.
Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 -- June 5, 1900) was an American novelist, short story writer, poet and journalist. Prolific throughout his short life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. He is recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation.
Plagued by financial difficulties and ill health, Crane died of tuberculosis in a Black Forest sanatorium at the age of 28. At the time of his death, Crane had become an important figure in American literature. He was nearly forgotten, however, until two decades later when critics revived interest in his life and work. Stylistically, Crane's writing is characterized by vivid intensity, distinctive dialects, and irony. Common themes involve fear, spiritual crises and social isolation. Although recognized primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, which has become an American classic, Crane is also known for short stories such as "The Open Boat", "The Blue Hotel", "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky", and The Monster. His writing made a deep impression on 20th century writers, most prominent among them Ernest Hemingway, and is thought to have inspired the Modernists and the Imagists.
All rights are reserved on this video recording copyright Jim Clark 2011
In the desert..............
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."