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I Stood Upon A High Place
by Stephen Crane
I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!”
This very short poem by Stephen Crane is six lines of free verse, with no set rhyme scheme, and no set meter.
The poet has in view, in this piece, an examination of the nature and behavior of humanity, and also himself.
In the title, and first line, the Speaker separates himself from what he intends to view, with sufficient perspective to look down upon it. We do not yet know at what he is looking.
We learn in line 2 that once he looked, the Speaker saw “many devils.” The poet does not describe any other beings in his view. The Speaker continues on, in the next lines, describing their behavior. They are wild, disorderly, and sinful. We might think at this point, as the Reader, that the Speaker is looking into hell itself.
In lines 5 and 6 though, one of the devils looks up, recognizing him, and calls him a comrade and brother. From this we can deduce that the Speaker is describing humanity as devils and himself as among their ranks.
The piece ends there. It’s not cheerful. Crane is condemning his society (himself included) in this work and leaving no room for ambiguity. Whether this is a call to action is up for interpretation. Perhaps the first step toward not acting like a devil is to recognize first that you are acting like one. This type of imagery for Crane was not unique to this piece.
Crane was a prolific, influential, and passionate writer who died at only 28 years old. From wiki:
Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer. Prolific throughout his short life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. He is recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation.
The ninth surviving child of Methodist parents, Crane began writing at the age of four and had several articles published by the age of 16. Having little interest in university studies though he was active in a fraternity, he left Syracuse University in 1891 to work as a reporter and writer. Crane’s first novel was the 1893 Bowery tale Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, generally considered by critics to be the first work of American literary Naturalism. He won international acclaim in 1895 for his Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, which he wrote without having any battle experience.
In 1896, Crane endured a highly publicized scandal after appearing as a witness in the trial of a suspected prostitute, an acquaintance named Dora Clark. Late that year he accepted an offer to travel to Cuba as a war correspondent. As he waited in Jacksonville, Florida, for passage, he met Cora Taylor, with whom he began a lasting relationship. En route to Cuba, Crane’s vessel, the SS Commodore, sank off the coast of Florida, leaving him and others adrift for 30 hours in a dinghy. Crane described the ordeal in “The Open Boat“. During the final years of his life, he covered conflicts in Greece (accompanied by Cora, recognized as the first woman war correspondent) and later lived in England with her. He was befriended by writers such as Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells. Plagued by financial difficulties and ill health, Crane died of tuberculosis in a Black Forest sanatorium in Germany at the age of 28.
At the time of his death, Crane was considered an important figure in American literature. After he was nearly forgotten for two decades, critics revived interest in his life and work. Crane’s writing is characterized by vivid intensity, distinctive dialects, and irony. Common themes involve fear, spiritual crises and social isolation. Although recognized primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, which has become an American classic, Crane is also known for his poetry, journalism, and short stories such as “The Open Boat”, “The Blue Hotel“, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky“, and The Monster. His writing made a deep impression on 20th-century writers, most prominent among them Ernest Hemingway, and is thought to have inspired the Modernists and the Imagists.