I'll go out on a limb here and guess that many of you reading this post have written, at some time in your lives, some really really dark, brooding, jaded, melancholy, depressing poetry and/or prose (I totally did that thing; for me it was in high school).
Well, I have to say that whatever you wrote is sunshine and flower petals and puppy dogs compared to the stuff that poured from Stephen Crane's pen. Now that dude knew how to be nihilistic. I mean, just read some of his poems from The Black Riders (1895) and War is Kind (1896). I'd need a mountainous mound of dark chocolate on hand to read just one of those poetry collections in one sitting, you guys.
But just because his writing is often about the fruitlessness of our lives and the universe's massive yawn whenever we try to make ourselves noticed by it, doesn't mean it isn't awesome. And awesome it truly is. Crane was all about the spare, tightly-regulated prose. No word was used unless it was absolutely essential. Nothing was wasted.
And often, especially when reading his short stories, you'll actually find yourself chuckling in that oh-my-this-irony-is-over-the-top kind of way. For example: "Twelve O'Clock." A brief story about an altercation between cowboys over the nature of a cuckoo clock (you read that right). Something as seemingly insignificant as a cuckoo clock is transformed into a source of tragedy. What happens at the end is terrible, but you can't help but shake your head and say, "but it was just a clock! How could it have come to that?"
Like Twain, Harte, and other American writers of the mid-to-late 19th century who looked to the frontier and its tradition of tall-tales and extravagant anecdotes to craft a uniquely American literature, Crane explored issues of fate, tragedy, and the significance of human actions in an uncaring universe. Crane wrote about everything from prostitution to the Civil War, frontier life to American intervention in Cuba. This is one writer who cannot be missed.
Let me leave you with one of his most famous poems:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”