One afternoon back in the 1970s, I was browsing through the sale table at the Cornell University bookstore when a shopworn paperback caught my eye: The Complete Poems of Stephen Crane. I remember saying to myself, “The author of The Red Badge of Courage wrote poetry?” I picked up the book, skimmed the first several pages, and paused at the third poem. Like the others, it bore no title, simply a roman numeral, but it took my breath away:

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.”

After murmuring “Wow”—the correct critical response, by the...


New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now