Monday, 5 October 2015

Hearty Breakfast

I have written quite a few posts about meals that I have liked the sound of in literature - examples include this and this and this and this. While this post also deals with a meal in literature, I don't think I could really say it is a meal that I like the sound of. Nevertheless, I suppose it belongs with the others, to a small extent.

The meal in question is striking, to put it mildly.  It is perhaps not inappropriate that I stumbled across it so soon after attending my first ever rugby match. There is something of its wild strangeness observable in the antics that take place on the rugby field, I think.

The meal is contained in a poem by Stephen Crane, which I found it in a collection of short poems called Short and Sweet edited by Simon Armitage.

Short and Sweet is a nice little collection but it has one fault, which is that it does not include any biographical details about the authors whose works are included within its pages. Therefore, when I saw the name Stephen Crane beside this poem, I was unable immediately to tell if this was the same Stephen Crane whose book Red Badge of Courage had rather bored me when I'd had to study it as a fourteen-year-old in an all girls boarding school near Mittagong in New South Wales. The style of this poem was so much more arresting than the style of the novel had been - mind you, I'm being unfair on the novel, which came to me in the wrong circumstances. At fourteen, in a peaceful bush setting, I found it difficult to get really interested in the doings of Crane's mainly - possibly entirely - male cast, or in their drily naturalistic Civil War setting. It all seemed impossibly remote - and, frankly, at that age, not terribly gripping.

They might have been wiser to set us Crane's poems, judging by this one. In your teens, you're always up for a bit of ghoulish weirdness, but no-one mentioned that he'd even written any. Perhaps this is not surprising as, according to the poetry foundation page dedicated to Crane  his poems are not widely known, even though they "foreshadowed the work of the Imagist poets."

What a boon the internet must be to teachers. If our teachers had started us off with poems like this one, we might have taken to Red Badge of Courage with shrieks of horrified glee, instead of our usual sullen apathy:

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."

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