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Fast rode the knight

Fast rode the knight

Stephen Crane, today considered one of the most innovative writers of the 1890s, in four years alone published five novels, two volumes of poetry, three short story collections, two books of war stories, and numerous works of short fiction and reporting.  Despite being only 28 years of age when he died in 1900 of haemorrhages of the lungs, he was already one of the best known writers of his generation.  His poetry, which he referred to as “lines” was not analysed by critics as much as his fiction.  His own view was that his overall aim when it came to his poems was “to give my ideas of life as a whole, so far as I know it.”

His poems, generally short in length, such as “Fast rode the knight” contain certain attitudes, beliefs, opinions and stances towards God, man and the Universe, themes that Denny Bradbury in her new book De-versify also draws on in her poems such as “Hare in the Moonlight”; “Wisdom of Trees” and “Horses of War” where she looks to the elements and creatures in nature and how we, as humans, could learn from their knowledge and wisdom:

“… Hare with her babies
Wisdom abounds…

….Hare knows the old ways
Hare knows what we lack

Hare sees all the mystery
Hare keeps it all back

We have to listen
Find ways back to the truth…”

Crane’s  “Fast rode the knight”  takes on the theme of chivalry to illustrate how the pursuit of one goal can be destructive and how mankind sometimes does not realise the price that had been paid.  He starts his poem by describing the way the knight rides the horse, spurring the animal on as he desperately chases his goal:

“Fast rode the knight
With spurs, hot and reeking,
Ever waving an eager sword,
“To save my lady!”
Fast rode the knIght,
And leaped from saddle to war….”

His poem illustrates how even when we think we are doing a good deed, man’s obsession can blur our vision and stop us from seeing that the ways we have chosen are not necessarily the best ones.  As Denny Bradbury says in her poem “Horses of War”:

“..What a debt do we owe to each lovely steed?
We offer sad thanks as they worked for man’s greed
Lessons we learned from this desperation
Should ensure that we never seek reparation.”

Similarly, in “Fast rode the knight”, Crane illustrates how people will sacrifice everything to reach the top, yet when they get there, most of them realise it was not worth it – the knight had the good intention of rescuing his lady, but in the process his horse is left bleeding and for dead, in contrast to the waving banner of the hero.  Was the horse killed by his master’s desires to rescue his lady at all costs or by the enemies the knight was defending his lady from? Does the end ever justify the means?:

“..A horse,

Blowing, staggering, bloody thing,

Forgotten at the foot at the castle wall.

A horse

Dead at the foot of the castle wall.”

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