A man saw a ball of gold in the sky

A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;
He climbed for it,
And eventually he achieved it —
It was clay.

Now this is the strange part:
When the man went to the earth
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold.
Now this is the strange part:
It was a ball of gold.
Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Stephen Crane's poem A man saw a ball of gold in the sky


  1. Peter C. Langella says:

    All longing, all striving, all perception, all treaures and trophies are false rewards of ego, but man needs to have delusions of grandeur, of reward, even if deep down he knows by experience the gold to be clay.

  2. Linda Hipps says:

    A man saw a ball of gold ( he viewed it as what would make him happy ). He climbed ( or worked for it ) and when he achieved it ( reached his goal ) it was clay ( he realized the thing he thought would make him happy…did not. He looked again and saw a ball of gold. And by the heavens it was a ball of gold…what he was looking for was right in front of him all along.

  3. emma24q says:

    This poem has a few deep meanings but could possibly suggest that something/ someone higher or more important than you will always seem glorious and majestic from the outside but once you truly look closely they are not as fascinating

  4. Zhi D says:

    For me, this poem defines our insatiability. We never get satisfied with what we currently have. For instance, we want to be somewhere else. After getting there, we want to go back.

  5. marcus says:

    i think there should be more pasion in his poems because ithink he was a man with little dis wregard for other people.

  6. marcus says:

    i think that he should have put more feeling into his poems. im not sayin it wasnt good i am sayin poems are supost to express ur feeling and im not sure that is feally how he felt on the subject

  7. Alex says:

    I see this a little differently from everyone else, I think… When I read this, the volta really strikes me– that the strange part is, it WAS gold. To me, it is about perspective. Perhaps up close, your idol really is faulted clay. That does not mean that it cannot have true value when looked at from the Earth, even if it is seen as something it truly is not.

  8. Anja says:

    How about ‘ball of gold’ = sun or a person you are looking up to?
    Climbing up – analysing it/her/him – you will find ‘it [her/him] was clay’.
    But returning back to earth, you may see it/her/him shine as brightly as before. – Which does not necessarily mean, you get trapped in its/her/his shine.
    Instead, with full knowledge of what(ever) it/she/he is, you
    – may allow yourself to ‘get trapped’ and climb again
    – can appreciate the beauty in simple things / an average person
    – can pedestal sth./s.o. by your own choice even though you are aware he/she/it is common.

    (Thanks Rich for making me take notice of the horizon one. – The man running reminds me a little of Sesame Street, the sketch with Beautiful Day Monster, Cookie Monster and Baby Monster running in between them wanting to ‘be there.’ but always arriving at ‘being here.’)

    So is there anyone out there still climbing for gold?

  9. Rich says:

    This Crane poem strikes me as a commentary on our greatest use or maybe misuse of our reasoning minds — our propensity to self deceive even when confronted with a reality. It seems similar to another poem of his — #24: “I saw a man pursuing the horizon… ‘it is futile,’ I said… ‘You lie’ he cried, and ran on.”

  10. Wade says:

    I’ve been intrigued by this poem for forty years. The key seems to be in the lines “When the man went to the earth/and looked again.” When he looks again, does he look up as before? I’ve always thought he does–and falls into the same trap as before, believing that it is, indeed, a ball of gold. And he will climb again.

  11. Joe Bellacero says:

    Crane is commenting on how the real treasure in life consists in striving for something. It is the effort to achieve a goal that gives it value. Kids see this in the excitement they feel running up to Christmas, and the let down after the last gift is opened. Adults see it in the constant resetting of goals so that they might have a purpose for going on. I love this poem.

  12. Seer says:

    Men can only value what they do not have.

  13. Tim says:

    This poem …i think said that heaven is not truely as good as it says it is to be.

  14. evangeline says:

    i think he’s trying to say that the man saw gold that would give him fortune, which would make him happy, and he got it. but up close, it was worthless and stupid. then when he looked back down, he saw that the true gold, the true happiness, was right next to him, but he just didn’t see it because he was looking upward, trying to find fame and fortune, the whole time.

  15. pete says:

    this poem is queer

  16. mit tomka says:

    i loved this poem i barely understood it thanx

  17. Linda H. York says:

    Many years ago I decided to use an analysis of this poem as the central theme of my masters thesis on Stephen Crane. The poem is quite simple but clearly distinguishes the glaring differences between journalism and creative writing. The full body of Crane’s work may interpreted from this perspective. Alas, I never got my MA in English and the thesis was never written. The main theory still works today.

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