Monday, January 19, 2009

Crane's Funeral and Wallace Stevens

Stephen Crane died on June 5, 1900, in Badenweiler, Germany at the age of twenty-eight. His body was then transported to New York, where it was buried on June 28, 1900. At the time of his death, Crane's reputation had waned and few people attended the funeral. One, who did attend, however, was the young Wallace Stevens. The cursory funeral and memorial appalled him and he wrote in his journal that "the whole thing was frightful."

The funeral made a great impression on Stevens. At the time he was struggling with whether he should become a poet full time or work as a journalist. The struggle for Stevens arose from the doing (Hebraism)--making a living, material success, security--verses "falling off the edge"(Hellenism)--reading, studying and writing poetry. In his mind there was something unmanly about writing poetry. A man needed to do things--i.e. have a job and make money.

Crane's end scared Stevens. Here was a man, who he idolized, dead and without fame or fortune. Crane's renown would come later, like other American poets of the 19th century; however, Stevens was unprepared to write posthumously and consequently he acquiesced to his father's demands and took up first journalism and then the law. Doing conquered not-doing; order overcame chaos.

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