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Copeland and Day’s rendering doesn’t set aside the plain text version, it excavates it. The flagrantly “classical” book design brings high artifice to what might otherwise haveseemed a careless text. Now those loose rhymes seem the formalities of another language, like the remarkable off rhymes that Rossetti discovered for English verse through his poetical Italienische Reise , The Early Italian Poets .

should the wide world roll away

leaving black terror

limitless night,

nor god, nor man, nor place to stand

would be to me essential

if thou and thy white arms were there

and the fall to doom a long way.

But simply quoting the lines in these small caps doesn’t reveal the interpretive force the general book brings to each of itsworks. In plain text, number X is a kind of loose epigram; in The Black Riders it turns gnomic, one of sixty-eight similar pieces that are delivered as if they were fragments recovered from a lost scripture.

Then there is Melanie Norton’s illustrated text produced for The Bookman in 1896.

Melanie Norton's illustrated text of Black Riders View a high-resolution image of this page.

Here the text is not so much illustrated as illuminated in a mode that recalls, for example, the design for the prose-poem “Argument”to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell , where the design penetrates and merges into the text. Note how the idea implicit in the poem—that the white page space is the abstractform of the “ white arms ” —gets materialized. The white figure appearing through the black ink below the text is not the second person of the poem but the first person, here seen as having fallen into a state ofrepose. First and second person merge in this figure, born out of the white space waiting “ there ” and only to be realized through the onset of the visible darkness.

That visual double-mindedness brings interpretive clarity to an odd collision of semantic meanings in the text. Is thetext stating that the white arms remove the threat of a long fall to doom? Or is it saying that the promise of those white arms makes a long fall to doom something to be desired? While the text offers bothmeanings to us, Norton’s design explicates the paradox they represent.

Bibliography

Thomas Beer, Stephen Crane: A Study in American Letters . New York: Knopf, 1923.

Christopher Benfey, The Double Life of Stephen Crane . New York: Knopf, 1992 (see especially chapter 6, “Lines” pp. 123-139).

John Blair, “The Posture of the Bohemian in the Poetry of Stephen Crane,” American Literature 61 (1989): 215-229.

Fredson Bowers, ed., The University of Virginia Edition of the Works of Stephen Crane . 10 Vols. Charlottesville, VA: U. Press of Virginia, 1969-76. Vol. 10, Poems and Literary Remains , ed. Fredson Bowers, with an Introduction by James B. Colvert (1975).

Matthew J. Bruccoli, Stephen Crane 1871-1971 . Dept. of English, U. of South Carolina: Columbia SC, 1971.

James M. Cox, “ The Pilgrim’s Progress as Source for Stephen Crane’s The Black Riders ,” American Literature 28 (1957): 478-487.

Linda Davis, Badge of Courage. The Life of Stephen Crane . Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1998.

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Source:  OpenStax, Stephen crane's "the black riders and other lines". OpenStax CNX. Jul 30, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10822/1.1
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