XXVIII "Truth," Said a Traveler by Stephen Crane


A late 19th-century American poet, novelist, and author of short stories, Stephen Crane's prolific body of work embraces Realism, American Naturalism, and Impressionism. His writing is characterized by vivid intensity, distinctive dialects, and irony. His poem, “Truth, said a traveler,” is a profound exploration of the elusive nature of truth. In the poem, truth is personified and described from two contrasting perspectives: as a solid, unchanging entity (“a rock, a mighty fortress”) and as a fleeting, intangible phenomenon (“a breath, a wind, a shadow, a phantom”). This dichotomy reflects Crane’s innovative approach to writing and his ability to encapsulate complex themes in a concise and impactful manner.

“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.

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the personification of truth in the poem influence your understanding of the concept of truth?
  2. What do you think the contrasting descriptions of truth (“a rock, a mighty fortress” vs “a breath, a wind, a shadow, a phantom”) signify in the context of the poem?
  3. How does the poem’s structure and use of language contribute to its overall theme and message?

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