Monday, March 10, 2008

A Man Said To The Universe

1. A Main Said To The Universe
A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

Crane, Stephen M. "A Man Said to the Universe: by Stephen Crane." Poem Hunter. 10 Mar. 2008

2. This poem seems to echo everything Sartre, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche had to say. Simply put, crane(through the universe) is asking the reader why the universe should care that he or she exists. Just because they're here--is that reason enough to celebrate? The man is presented about as important bug, thumbs or no thumbs. The free-verse poem is short for a reason. Like Man, it feels it has something to say; also like Man, it's rather small and upon first glance it seems rather insignificant. It was written just before 1900 (Crane's death), although I couldn't fine the exact date online.

3. I absolutely love everything about this poem. The first time I looked at the piece (two or so years ago?), I actually laughed; it reads like a big, cosmic joke, and I think the fact that it is so short and almost sets up a punchline really adds. Personally, I also love easily accessible art. Not because of laziness, or because it's 'easier' to write, but because it can reach a wider audience that wouldn't otherwise be able to connect with a piece. Although there'll always be room in my heart for TS Elliot and Sylvia Plath, I think that poetry is dismissed by a lot of people because they don't understand it--therefore, it's not worth their, or anyone else's, time. Crane has managed to sum up an entire school of thought in five lines--and it impresses me to no end. Plus: existentialism? Always relevant.

4. I think Crane compares to two poems pretty well. The first is Cleghorn's The golf links lie so near the mill, for stylistic reasons. Both poems seem to share an anti-romantic tone, because of both the topics and presentation. Crane delivers an existential punch in five lines--claiming the universe cares nothing of us--and Cleghorn points her finger at the rich in four lines. Both poems are simple, to the point, and accessible to anyone that would care to read them.

The second poem that I think was relevent to Crane's was Keat's On Seeing the Elgin Marbles, because of the content. Eightyish years before Crane's poem was called into existence, Keats was sitting in England, looking at some ancient Greek pillars, and reflecting on his purposelessness. Both poems, I think, are meant to put the reader in his or her place: both under time and the universe.


Prof. L said...

Nice choice! Consider the "universe's" language. Pretty stuffy, one might even say a bit bureaucratic (kind of weird that the universe answers in the first place, isn't it).

Might be ripe for a reversal of binaries. The poem that would seem to reduce the speaker to insignificance in fact permits him to speak for, and perhaps even parody, a vast and speechless entity. The universe might hold no obligations, but it becomes a symbol to be invested with what meanings we choose.

Marissa said...

Funny! Ha, but then again, sort of not. What a striking picture. It seems to me at once to jab at humanity's egocentricity, and comment on the ultimate futility of everything we do. Suppose the universe, whether you personify it or not, sent a nice, big asteroid to wipe out the entire planet--not even this tiny poem would be spared. It's so ironic--and yet even if we're laughing, the joke's on us!