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.”

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

58 Comments

  1. tai wai lee says:

    I assume some One is directing each of all of our lives.
    Different one has different path
    And different way to look at it.
    Steven Crane has his point of view.
    I like his poems a lot.

    Here’s my view that I wrote a long time ago:
    ………………………………………..
    I have a sip of coffee
    Sweet without sugar;
    I taste the nectar of life
    Happy within pain.
    ………………………………………..

    tai wai lee from USA

  2. Davidin Santa Clarita says:

    When you read a poem, it means what you think it means; not what the author thinks it means. Robert Frost said he never thought of death when he wrote “Stopping in a woods on a snowy Evening”. To me it has always been about contemplating ones own death and, yes, suicide.
    This poem is about a man who willfully and joyfully consumes the very thing that sustains him. I see it as a metaphor for the way we destroy our environment for profit, and I think of Easter Island.

  3. river says:

    According to traditional Chinese medicine, human heart needs the taste of bitterness.
    But I like this poem, because it symbolizes vividly the fate of modernity.

  4. Shannon Woodside says:

    The poem isnt just about knowing pain. It is about relishing in the pain; savoring it. He doesnt just acknowledge he is eating his heart, but that he enjoys it. The bitterness is his solace.

  5. Abalinda says:

    Someone said it is about love. It is about love definitely, but I think that is an over-simplification. I think it is about how often we would rather feel pain than feel nothing at all. It is about how we listen to sad songs that are beautiful even though they make us sad. As humans, we feel strongly. Deep down, we are not these polished people who have everything together. We are really naked, bestial creatures who cannot control everything and who are often in metaphorical deserts because we are actually alone and have nothing but ourselves. Still, we celebrate these emotions which are frequently bitter because they are what make us alive and human… So it can be about love because without the pain in love, we would not be human, but I do not think it is ONLY about love.

  6. Terry says:

    I like Neil’s comment #48&49. And so with that in mind here I am.
    I feel the poem refers to more than just love.
    The creature is within us all.
    By taking in/upon us, that which is of us, be it bitter, distasteful and awful, can we become better.
    Only by facing these truths, processing by our heart these distastful aspects of our human condition, can we learn to evolve from the creature form to a better enlightened being.
    Thats my take.
    wish me luck with it.
    Now back to my meal, I’ve a lot to consume.

  7. Neil says:

    I had a quick look through all the comments and didn’t see one that actually hit on the core of the poem. I am no poetry expert but, when I first read this one, many years ago, I realised immediately what it was about. I have had a framed copy of it on my window ledge for years – I’m looking at it now. The poem is about LOVE! We go through it and get hurt by it, but although it hurts we go back for more. Look at it in this way and all the symbolism falls into place.

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  9. Alex says:

    If someone were to ask you if you liked your heart, you’d probably answer yes. I have a good heart, meaning you love, or are charitable. But this man has a bitter heart because he’s an outcast, in the desert, there is no life in the desert. Deep dude. Wow. Brilliant.

  10. Laura says:

    Among all living creatures, man is the only to willingly destroy himself. Knowing what brings self destruction – yet engages in it anyways.

  11. Brittany says:

    I think the poem can be about anything we indulge in, but to me it’s about depression. It’s horribly painful, but you bury yourself in it because it’s comfortable. It’s who you are so you just give in to it and you’d never change it because it’s special because it’s yours. It’s the depths of you. That’s what I think the poem’s about.

  12. Tiffany says:

    Probably not the purpose of the poem, but what I recently found in it was an explanation of human nature when it comes to love.
    To love someone so much that it hurts; that it feels like you’ve exposed your heart and eaten of it.
    When you love someone you give them the power to hurt you, which is bitter.
    But it is also good.
    Or;
    “It is bitter-bitter, but I like it because it is bitter, and because it is my heart.”

  13. stien ramstierin says:

    Crane was a god hating down to heart racist, he died in germany were he met his aryan brothers and denied god and died as racist.me frieds and brothers learn from this man THE GREAT Adolf Hiler did you should to

  14. Daniel says:

    A poem is a poem for a purpose. That innate purpose is to spark or tickle a certain fancy within the reader in order for the reader to derive purpose from the poem. The poem does not give purpose, nor does the poem stipulate that a certain feeling or perception is manditory after reading it. This poem is for the reader. The readers life, the readers situation, the readers feelings, the readers perception is only stipulated by the individual reader. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. The reader creates there own feeling; therefore your responses to the poem tells a listener more about you then the poem.

  15. Daniel says:

    A poem is a poem for a purpose. That innate purpose is to spark or tickle a certain fancy within the reader in order for the reader to derive purpose from the poem. The poem does not give purpose, nor does the poem stipulate that a certain feeling or perception is manditory after reading it. This poem is for the reader. The readers life, the readers situation, the readers feelings, the readers perception is only stipulated by the individual reader. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. The reader creates there own feeling; therefore your responses to the poem tells a listener more about you then the poem.

  16. earlabayan says:

    this poem is really meaningful to me. it helped me in my life! great poem!

  17. Ashley says:

    one of my favorite poems.
    main idea is: we are the way we are because we like it.
    he’s eating his heart which he says is bitter and bitter things usually aren’t good, however he likes it

  18. Joshua says:

    Chris, it is precicely because we love Stephen Crane’s poetry so much that we will read it from the internet. We love it so much, that if we do not have bookstores to find his work, credit cards to order his work, or enough money to purchase it in the first place, then we will succomb a thousend times to finding it on the internet without cost.

  19. lunari says:

    the bitter on this poem is a reference of the PEYOTE a plant wich growth in the desert and can teach you about yourself. allicinate

  20. Chris Hoffer says:

    I think that you are too into poetry and that if you liked it so much you would be reading it out of a book instead of on the internet

  21. Lindsey says:

    He is not eating his heart. He is eating OF his heart. I think that noticing that brings a whole new dimension to the poem…

  22. Philip says:

    I read a brilliantly written book called THE POETRY OF STEPHEN CRANE, by Daniel Hoffman, Columbia University Press, in which it is shown that this poem refers to the nature of Man: To sin and to be remorseful. If you love Crane’s poetry, as I do, you should look up this book. This is neither Crane’s Best poem, nor my personal favorite, but it is a superb bit of verse.

  23. William says:

    I think you guys are all dumb… lol u c.. the poem is talking aobut creature who admits that all our hearts contain sin… though he agrees to like it…. Figuratively speaking. Of course the creature is only a creature and doesnt include humans.. Though most people would also agree that our hearts are also swimming with sin..

  24. Patrick says:

    There is one inherent confusion in this poem that I cannot reconcile. I believe the creature and the speaker to be two sides to Crane’s self. This has been stated before so I will leave it at that. I also believe that the “eating” of the heart is a representation of the attraction of misery. It is all too common for humans to experience a loss and retreat into a “poor me” attitude that embraces sorrow instead of moving beyond it.
    Ok so back to the original conundrum. In this poem, does Crane take a stance? One one hand, you could assume that the creature’s bestial nakedness puts it on a lower, more primitive level of cognition. Thus it is a base reaction to embrace sorrow and refuse to move on. If this were the case, then Crane is saying that we should all move past our misfortunes and live. Then there is the opposite reading. Is Crane really saying that the world is a cruel, indifferent, and oftentimes hostile creation that breeds sorrow? And that embracing sorrow is the only possible reaction in a world that breeds constant misfortune?
    This is my quandary. Which position is Crane really taking? The fact that the poem ends on the creature’s words of woe seems to point to the 2nd interpretation. One would assume that if Crane wanted us to move past “eating our hearts” then the speaker would respond to the creature’s words. However, he does not. Is this conclusive proof? I don’t think so.
    Regardless it is a wonderfully sorrowful poem in either instance.

  25. Zach says:

    I believe that this poem clearly states that the creature is oveously a struggling 6th grader try to work ona poetry unit and he is eating his heart so he dies and never has to worry about that project

  26. elif says:

    Well,if it is possible to survive without having a heart then what is the use of it?Am I being too pragmatist or too weak to tolerate a heart beating as if it rebells?

  27. JJ Melendez says:

    I think this is good poem and i agree that the dog is eating his dog poo, and hes a bad little doggy now. Dogs are cool though.

  28. Nathaniel H. says:

    The heart is passion. The creature is our carnal nature and desire, and to eat the heart is to glutt oneself on his passion. When you do that, when you feast on your passion, it is bitter, bitter, but you like it because it is bitter and because it is your heart. The poem is a masterpiece. I think about it often.

  29. John says:

    I think the bestial creature is nothing more than a creature. I believe he is discussing pride. The creature is proud. He has a heart, and he likes it. It is bitter, true. All men are bitter, but all men are proud. Is the eating of his heart introspective? No, because he says “In the desert, I saw a creature.” He is not eating his heart, he is not necessarily bitter. It may mean no matter what man becomes, even a gangrel creature in the desert, he always has a heart. Whatever that may mean.

  30. Morgzin Richardsonz says:

    this poem is about eating dog poo. the dog thinks it tastes bitter but he loves eating his dog poo, especially other dogs poo

  31. Laura says:

    I think that this poem could possible be about a person who has lost everything because of his own doings. The desert symbolizes remoteness and desolation in his life, and his heart is all that he has left. He holds the heart in his own hands as if weighing it and eats from it. And when he likes the bitter taste of his heart, he likes it because he is taking account for his own sins and accepts it. He judges himself by what he knows of himself, and not by what others see of him, as it is emphasized when another person asks him how his heart tastes.

  32. Lori says:

    Beutiful…. i analize it as a man who is bitter.. who is bitter because he is lonely

  33. wes says:

    The poem has a strong mystical content. In just about every religion, there is the symbology of the desert as a place where the Sun (The awareness of the concious mind) burns away ignorance with the relentless light of its presence. In Jungian terms, the author is wandering (like Jesus or Siddartha) in a place where he is confronted with the fact that his spiritual troubles can no longer be laid at the feet of others, because the shadow(or “satan”) is the darker, or emotional part of our psychological nature. The author, in my experience, is confronting the bestial side of his humanity. Feel free to e-mail me on your thoughts on this interpretation.onesckmnky@netzero.com.
    P.S.: I am a hermetic/Jungian/mystical/Hanumaian

  34. mike j says:

    i think this poem is about a lonely person situated in a desert deprived of all humanily acqiutance like love encouragement happyness who resorts to embracing his own heartly bitterness through liking his weaknesses

  35. Alex says:

    I think jesse below me has hit the point EXACTLY. The desert is his place of complete aloness, drawn away from the world that so distracts us on an every day level. The mentions of himself (for I believe this is a autobiographical poem) as a “creature, naked, bestial” show that he has dropped all of the norms put in place by society and civilization, and has gotton down to his essential, tru “humaness”. The eating of his heart is truley allowing himself to delve into his own mind, which is not sujested lightly here considering that he choosing eating as the means (eating being a very intimate way of intaking in something. The friend reference shows the first sign of self acceptance, as he is abvoulsy talking to himself, although it may be two different sides corresponding. And the heart being bitter for me shows that he has overcome ignorant childhood notions of a happy endning, and has come to the realization that the world isnt a very happy place, that it is in fact “bitter”. But he would gladly take his revelation and introspective over ignorance on the fact, and thus he “likes his heart because it is bitter”. My favorite poetic composition ever.

  36. jordan says:

    just a thought: he eats his heart to remind himself that he is alive, and although he is in a bleak, blank area, the proof of existance is all he needs.

  37. bill shannon says:

    i think the poem is about envy. the creature is eating his heart out.

  38. Jesse says:

    i think the fact that he is naked in the desert suggests that he is all alone, completely revealed emotionally to the world; he has nothing to hide and nowhere to hide it. also i the ‘eating of his heart’ portrays more a sense of introspection than self-mutilation. i think he sees his faults but loves and is proud of himself despite them.

  39. Carley says:

    I think that he is on the edge of hiding his heart. He is trying to devour it to conseal it. He is naked be cause he feels exposed to some one or some thing. His heart is bitter because he dislikes some thing he has done or himself. I think he feels alone because he is in the desert and he is not with anyone. A beautiful work, from an exellent artist.

  40. rhea says:

    it’s a great poem, is it really all that neccessary to critique it online? do you people really get that big of a kick out of sounding smart? (or trying to…) I mean, Stephen Crane is great, let’s just read his poems, become deeply effected on several emotional levels and go through life unknowingly altered, there’s no need to bring poetry terminology into the whole thing!

  41. Josh says:

    This is a beautiful piece of work. The first thing i see, though, is the desert. This ‘creature’, who we all know to be a person, is trapped in a bleak wasteland of his own soul. Not Hell, as heat is never mentioned, but dry and dusty and mostly isolated (probably by choice).

    Secondly, obviously, the ‘creature, naked, beastial,’ (l. 2) does represent someone who has been stripped of all social refinement, and comes to us as a primitive. Holding his own heart in his hands, as opposed to someone else holding it (as someone might tell a lover they do) shows this man’s control over himself and his emotions.

    Now the big thing: This fellow is not being self-destructive. The narrator never said that he ATE his heart, only that he ate OF if, or tasted it, as it were. He took a small sampling of it and found it bitter, which was to his liking. Bitterness was this fellow’s self-made shield, or wall, to keep himself safe and to keep others, like the narrator, at a distance.

    This is a poem about safety and isolation, and, yes, probably cowardice and stubbornness, but, to go against the popular opinion, not self-destruction and abuse.

  42. Nimal says:

    a cynic must maintain that his/her cynicism is true – this is the creature in the desert, the cynic who has made it (or it has all become) reality, proof, truth!

  43. Mike M says:

    Everyone says this poem is about self-destruction, but I think it is really about liking yourself in spite of your flaws.

  44. Ben Dains says:

    The poem “In the Desert” by Stephen Crane is about him or someone he knows maybe. It’s about this one guy in a desert without any cloths. That means that he has nothing left in life, he is striped from everything. Then somebody asks him “is it good my friend”, and he answers “It is bitter – bitter, but I like it, because it is bitter, and because it is my heart.” I thank that means his heart is his life and he thanks he is bitter, has nothing else left in his life, and he likes it, and accepts it.

  45. Jo says:

    I encountered this poem when I was in my early 30s (I’m in my early 70s now)at a time when my life situation had taken a sudden spiral downward into despair resulting from multiple and almost simultaneous losses. From that place of emptiness and confusion, I found in the metaphor courage, hope, and strength to accept “what is”, to rebuild, and to distinguish my Life from my “life situation”……Bitter or sweet, it Is my heart, my Life. And I like it!

  46. Erin (from oregon) says:

    firstly, ALL HAIL STEPHEN CRANE! secondly, my thoughts.
    this poem has become the offical poem of the year in my english class. not only has everyone memorized it, but is all too eager to perform their dramatic interpretation. I don’t think a single one of them has put any thought to it’s meaning.
    Thanks to my lovely family, i have inherited the blessing of manic depression, and now that i am reasonably sane, i can recognize perverted thoughts and relate to this poem. When you have depression, you become so comfortable with self-bashing and mutilation, that you actually would rather stay there then put in the effort to drag yourself out. Some people cant understand this mindset at all, but if you have depression you know exactly what i, and this poem, are talking about.

  47. LzH. says:

    it dont understand what it means! it seems pretty wierd to me. but i wouldnt know anything about it.

  48. craven morhed says:

    who knows

  49. Jason says:

    This poem is about self destruction or self sabotage. All of us will meet people like this. I’ve worked with a few and perhaps even been one. The character in the poem is naked and bestial because Crane is speaking of a man stripped of showey civility. He is speaking to the raw man. The man is destroying himself (by eating his heart) and when the passerby asks about the taste the man admits that it is bitter, as self destruction really is. But the man knows no other way. He is comfortable with chaos and destruction in his life. It is all he has ever known. He knows that it is bitter but likes it because it is all that he has to offer to the world and to himself. It is who he is. He must force himself to like the taste of his own destruction because to reject it would be admitting irrelavance or invisibility in the world. He hates that more than the pain of self destruction becuase rejection is what formed him. He has become self destructive because he has been rejected. In real life this is the wife who stays with the abusive husband. This is the teenager who steals bigger and bigger things until he finally gets caught. In the corperate world this is the man who causes discord with everyone around him until he finally gets fired. They are comfortable with chaos and destruction and yet they hate it and dream of success or freedom. They eat it though it is bitter and though it means death.

  50. Jarod says:

    I’ve worked with this poem quite a bit throughout the years for different reasons, but I’ve never encountered this before: I have recently seen copies of this poem under the title “The Heart”. Results for this same poem came up when I checked both titles online. Does anyone know what the story behind this?

  51. laura says:

    in this poem, i think that Crane is trying to tell us that he has a bitter heart and he is not willing to change that fact.if you have any comments to add to this please write me!

  52. James from Oklahoma says:

    What Sartre called bad faith was caving to the desire to over-simplify one’s condition, and choose a radical self-destruction or self-aggrandizement over living ordinarily and not letting it get to you. In the Firesign Theatre a lieutenant in the sceond world war is appalled to distraction, and starts saying he is going to go out and Kill kill kill — hunbg on the word kill like a horrific ghost– and a sergeant says, “Aw, don’t let it get to you, Lieutenant!” So When Crane asks “Is it good?” I think he’s suggesting that the guy makes his own desert and that eating his heart is a self-obsessed form of morbid narcissisism. But I may be projecting.

  53. Andrea (from TN) says:

    If a person doesn’t want to change for themselves then they will never change. A man with a bitter heart will sometimes find it very pleasant to be who he is and to live how he lives. The poem “In the Desert” by Stephen Crane compares a man’s actions to what is in his heart. The man described in the poem is drowning in isolation and misery. The man feels more like a beast rather than an actual human. He considers himself to be friends with the beast who lives in him. The speaker asks, “Is it good, friend?” and answers himself using the other person that lives in his heart. The man probably acts in a beastly manner and isn’t someone that one would want to meet in a dark alley somewhere. The man doesn’t want to change who he is because he can’t help the way he feels about life. He knows that his heart has grown bitter over time; however, he doesn’t want to change his heart. The man sits and dwells in self-pity for himself even though he doesn’t have to. He chooses ease instead of just doing something worthwhile in his life. The man could develop a heart full of peace even though he feels it is easier to accept the way he has grown to be. He is aware that he could choose to change his heart; nevertheless, he doesn’t want to. The man replies, “It is bitter — bitter– / But I like it” (7-8). The man likes who he is so much that he holds his heart in his hands and eats some of it so that he can actually taste the bitterness in his heart. Stating why he likes his heart, the man says, “Because it is bitter– / And because it is my heart” (9-10). He chooses to be content with the fact that he has a bitter heart; then, he chooses to dwell in the dark place that his heart has placed him in. The man feels that he has to settle with who he is; otherwise, he wouldn’t have anything left. He dwells in all of his emotions that keep him in a dry, ancient place. The man represents many humans who dwell in pity and choose to keep a bitter heart. He represents humans who allow a bitter heart to consume them instead of allowing a bitter heart to change into a peaceful heart to fulfill them. No one can change their hearts unless they really want to change for themselves.

  54. Melissa says:

    The creature is of course a miserable human being who feels like a beast, perhaps acts like a beast and who has unquestionable been hurt badly in his life.

    His heart is bitter… he is eating his heart out… he is alone and feeding off the only thing he has left… his own misery and bitterness. He revels in this in the dark way that we all do when we are reveling in our own sadness or anger or depression.

    It is a beautiful, wonderful poem

  55. david says:

    i meant 2004 world series

  56. David says:

    the creature he sees is a red sox fan,might even had been i, of course that was before 2003 world series in which i reply; the creature was from the evil empire, a yankee fan there after evermore

  57. cody says:

    i think that the creature of course could be human, afterall humans are creatures too. and the creature eating his heart is of course liking it because it is his heart, because it is him and all that he is and why would he not like his heart. although he knows he is bitter he still likes the way he is and is not willing to change who he is just because his heart is the way it is.

  58. Pedro Molina says:

    Stephen Crane was poem is more symbolism, the creature represents a human. It is heating its heart but yet it likes it, which i think represents a human destroying himself in the inside but not even knowing it and still continues to eat away. His heart is bitter, so a bitter heart consumes bitterness, but a heart set for goodness and holyness will prosper the heart instead of destroying it

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