There was one I met upon the road
Who looked at me with kind eyes.
Her said, “Show me of your wares.”
And this I did,
Holding forth one.
He said, “It is a sin.”
Then held I forth another;
He said, “It is a sin.”
Then held I forth another;
He said, “It is a sin.”
And so to the end;
Always he said, “It is a sin.”
And, finally, I cried out,
“But I have none other.”
Then did he look at me
With kinder eyes.
“Poor soul!” he said.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Stephen Crane's poem There was one I met upon the road


  1. Stephanie H says:

    The speaker recalls meeting someone while walking along a road. It’s not necessary from the text, but my impression is that the person is a stranger. The stranger looks at the speaker “with kind eyes.” From this, I assume he’s well-intentioned. “Show me of your wares,” the stranger asks, and one at a time, the speaker does so. But, seeing each, in turn, the stranger says, “it is a sin.” The stranger calls all of these “wares” sins until finally, the speaker cries out: “But I have none other.” At this, the stranger looks at the speaker “with kinder eyes,” saying “poor soul!”

    The stranger could be God – perhaps only a spiritual teacher – coming to judge or teach the speaker a lesson. Each of the “wares” may represent actions, thoughts, or personal qualities, that is, things that the speaker is proud of and proud enough to show them off as if they were worthy of purchase or note. But all of these things are turned away as sins until the speaker finally says, “But I have none other” as if to say, “what more would you ask of me?” The stranger then looks at the speaker “with kinder eyes” and calls him “poor soul!” The change of expression – the “kinder eyes” – indicates to me that he is showing compassion, specifically in the way a teacher might look at a student close to solving a problem or understanding a lesson.

    The lesson, in this case, could be that, although we see value in the things we have or have done, none of these are significant or worthy of note in the eyes of God or the world. Calling the things sins could just be another way of saying “you’re wrong; think about it and try again.”

    It could also be that the “sin” is in the act of showing off our “wares” – in assuming that we have or have done things such that we are worthy of praise – rather than in the things themselves. (St. Augustine talks about this in his writings on grace and Pelagianism. Unlike Pelagius, Augustine believes that, because of the taint of original sin, humans are incapable of doing good without divine aid and therefore that we “pour soul(s)” are entirely without merit in the eyes of God; in other words, nothing of ours is worth anything.)

  2. WillAshland says:

    The long and short, as I percieve it, is that a person may not be all-responsible for their behavior, because the circumstances surrounding their behavior may have been out of their control. The speaker may be presented one way (sinful, or having only sin) toward the man, but the poem says that once the man has seen that all the speaker’s wares are sinfuil, the man THEN viewed the speaker with kinder eyes, and said, “poor soul!” as if he had a newfelt pity or compassion for the speaker. He may not have had the same feeling toward the speaker if it were his fault that all his wares were of sin.

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