Truth Poem by Stephen Crane


Rating: 2.6

"Truth," said a traveller,
"Is a rock, a mighty fortress;
Often have I been to it,
Even to its highest tower,
From whence the world looks black."

"Truth," said a traveller,
"Is a breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom;
Long have I pursued it,
But never have I touched
The hem of its garment."
And I believed the second traveller;
For truth was to me
A breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom,
And never had I touched
The hem of its garment.

Dancing Meerkat 24 April 2011

I typically see this poem split into three stanzas, with a natural break between 'the hem of its garment' and 'And I believed the second traveller'. This three-stanza construction reveals the subversive message at the end of the poem better than does the listed two stanzas. At the time this poem was written, not many Americans traveled more than a few miles from the small town or urban neighborhood of their birth, so the travelers, having visited foreign places denied to the common man, represent wise men. Their journeys and experiences give them insights and provide them perspectives unavailable to the sedentary man. The first traveler discovers that truth is absolute, while the second believes it to be elusive, perhaps even unattainable. These conflicting perspectives are interesting by themselves and worth pondering, but Crane comes down on the side of the second traveler, and goes further. He claims that truth isn't just elusive - it's relative ('For Truth was to me') . By the end of the poem, the first traveler's point of view is discredited - what he takes for absolute truth ('a rock, a mighty fortress') is merely a mistaken and subjective impression.

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