In the Desert

In the Desert

by Stephen Crane

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.”

Summary of In the Desert

  • Popularity of “In the Desert”: Stephen Crane, a renowned American poet and novelist, wrote ‘In the Desert’. It is a thought-provoking poem about human nature and greed. It was first published in 1895. The poem speaks about a person who sees a creature in the desert, eating his heart. It also illustrates how the person justifies this barbaric action. Though the poem has ten lines, it perfectly brings the darker aspects of human nature into the light.
  • “In the Desert” As a Representative of Human Nature: This poem is an expression of wonder. The speaker begins this piece with the description of a creature he sees in the desert, which appears to him an animal figure squatting upon the ground. To his surprise, he is holding his heart in his hand, half-eaten. On seeing this, the speaker asks this creature about the taste of the heart to which the creature answers that it is bitter. He innocently states that he loves to eat it. On a deeper level, the poem unfolds certain realities of life. The loneliness of the creature in the desert speaks about his inner discontent while eating his own heart represents his violent and greedy nature. Regardless of flaws and bitterness, the creature loves and enjoys the present miserable state of his life.
  • Major Themes in “In the Heart”: Greed and self-love are the notable themes of this poem. The poem revolves around two characters, a savage, who is performing an evil action happily and a passive man who does not try to stop that beast. He, instead, allows him to continue his practice. On the surface level, the poem reflects upon the speaker’s encounter with a strange figure in the desert who is mercilessly eating his own heart with pride. In another interpretation, the heart represents free-will. Eating is action by humanity, where they take free-will for granted. The poem talks about the human cycle of self-destruction.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “In the Desert”

Literary devices are used to bring richness to the text and make the reader understand the hidden meaning. Stephen Crane has also made this poem interesting by using these devices. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /i/ in “It is bitter—bitter”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick successions. For example, the sound of /h/ in “Held his heart in his hands” and the sound of /b/ in “It is bitter—bitter,” he answered”.
  3. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, ‘because it is’ is repeated in the last stanza of the poem to emphasize the reason for eating the heart.
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /d/ in “I said, “Is it good, friend” and the sounds of /t/ and /r/ in “It is bitter—bitter,” he answered.”
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it continues in the next line. For example,

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “I saw a creature, naked, bestial”, “Held his heart in his hands” and “It is bitter—bitter”.
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal meanings. “Heart” symbolizes the goodness and happiness of a person or free-will given by God.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “In the Desert”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of lines or verses. There are two stanzas in this poem, with each stanza has a different number of verses.
  2. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
  3. Tercet: A tercet is a three-lined stanza borrowed from Biblical Hebrew poetry. There is only one tercet in this poem.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful when talking about poverty. These lines best describe the disgraceful state of the people lacking pleasures of life.

“In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.”