Have A Heart: “The Heart” by Stephen Crane & “Dirty, Poorly Dressed” by Roberto Bolaño

I thought these two (excellent) poems deserved a side-by-side comparison. Looks like Bolaño must have come across Crane in his book-stealing days. His line, “Only fever and poetry provoke visions,” further suggests that his poem was inspired by Crane. “Dirty, Poorly Dressed” is Bolaño’s vision, provoked by Crane’s “The Heart.” He takes the central imagery, and tone, of the American’s short poem and writes a longer poem with more weight, more emotional depth. Bolaño always felt his greatest strengths as a writer were in his poetry, not his longer, more acclaimed works, which, I remember reading, used to make him blush with embarrassment. “Dirty, Poorly Dressed” reveals Bolaño as the great poet he thought himself to be, a Visceral Realist of the highest order. Enjoy both poems, below.

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The Heart 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.”

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Dirty, Poorly Dressed by Roberto Bolaño

On the dog’s path, my soul came upon
my heart. Shattered, but alive,
dirty, poorly dressed, and filled with love.
On the dog’s path, there where no one wants to go.
A path that only poets travel
when they have nothing left to do.
But I still had so many things to do!
And nevertheless, there I was: sentencing myself to death
by red ants and also
by black ants, traveling through the empty villages:
fear that grew
until it touched the stars.
A Chilean educated in Mexico can withstand everything,
I thought, but it wasn’t true.
At night, my heart cried. The river of being, chanted
some feverish lips I later discovered to be my own,
the river of being, the river of being, the ecstasy
that folds itself into the bank of these abandoned villages.
Mathematicians and theologians, diviners
and bandits emerged
like aquatic realities in the midst of a metallic reality.
Only fever and poetry provoke visions.
Only love and memory.
Not these paths or these plains.
Not these labyrinths.
Until at last my soul came upon my heart.
It was sick, it’s true, but it was alive.

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One Response to Have A Heart: “The Heart” by Stephen Crane & “Dirty, Poorly Dressed” by Roberto Bolaño

  1. Pingback: EXILIO Project/Proyecto EXILE « EXILIO

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