A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

Analysis, meaning and summary of Stephen Crane's poem A man said to the universe:


  1. Julia B says:

    This is one of my favorite poems by Stephen Crane. I think one way to interpret this poem is that it is a simple description of how humans seek validation from sources outside of themselves, and specifically seek validation from entities they perceive to have power greater than themselves. This man is not saying to a blade of grass or a lady bug “I exist”, he calls out to “the universe”.

    When we are born we have a biological imperative to be seen and have our existence validated by our caregivers who have all the power. In fact, infants who are not touched enough can die, so as infants our very life depends on validation of our existence. From the moment each of us is born and crying out for attention, we are asking “the universe” to acknowledge our existence. Yet, ultimately as children develop into adults and our primary caregivers are not all powerful, we inevitably demand external validation from society (the universe), depending on what part of the world we reside, we are likely to get a response of indifference from “the universe” (society).

    But this is just one of many ways to interpret this poem.

  2. jaime3232 says:

    i belive it is telling us that nature takes no notice of our struggles.

  3. Anna says:

    To the guy who commented on the “atrocious speling of (nearly) all posters” you spelled the word spelling wrong. Just thought I should let you know.

  4. Stephen Crane says:

    Double rainbow all the way, what does this mean?

  5. mike says:

    One of my favorites. The important question to ask yourself: Why, if the universe feels no sense of obligation to the man, does it bother to answer?

  6. Amanda says:

    This is an existentialist poem plain and simple. Stop trying to add subtext to it! Just appreciate it for what it is.

  7. Christa M.C. says:

    I don’t think the poem is anything about religion. I think the poem is a representation of a kind a political message. The man represents the people, the Universe represents those in power. I think it is an anti-welfare message. (The man believes he is entitled to certain things while the Universe is telling him no.) A sense of obligation (again, in my opinion) is referring to things like Universal Healthcare, garrenteed rights and priveledges that should be earned instead. The Universe, in this poem, recognizes that they shouldn’t necessarily give in to the desires of the man.

  8. Rachael says:

    This poem is about a man, who represents mankind as a whole, contemplating his existence. The universe represents a god-like figure. The man speaks to say he exists, and the universe is nonchalant and uncaring about it.

  9. ERJUN says:

    does the poem talk’s about fate?

    i do not think so……..

  10. Shay Te says:

    @ Bweos Slnng from Antigua and Barbuda:

    “Men shouldn’t talk to the universe. That’s for women. ”
    –What do you mean by this remark?

  11. Jon Nissen says:

    I just had to comment on the atrocious speling of (nearly) all posters… I just couldn’t take you seriously.

  12. zach says:

    FREE WILL. That’s all it is, we have a choice in everything we do. We are not obliged to do anything not even celebrate life or the universe from whence we came. For good or bad, we make our own path in life.

  13. Callum says:

    Answer me now lord for
    Man is worth much more;
    I Eat, I Sleep, I Prey for YOU.
    We are here, listen to Our cries!-
    The Universe sleep…

    what do you guys think??

  14. Thomas Beckett says:

    A Man, with great tenacity, gave chase,
    Pleading his question: “Sir, I must ask:
    How might I perceive you, wholly?”
    The Universe, in no grave humor,
    Countered, “You may certainly try.”

  15. charlie says:

    not only is this poem proving existenilism as we are responsable for ourselfs it also disagrees with darwin who was around at the time. the use of determiners is very clever because A refurind to the man is indifinate the refuring to the universe is difibate making it more imporatnt,

  16. Saris says:

    There is alot written here about man’s insignificance. So thats all true, but did you notice the universe took notice of him. So the universe feels no obligation towards the man, but the universe turned around for whatever reason and said something. So maybe man is worthless, but you cant ignore him.

  17. Nick S. says:

    “Consequently,” responded the man,
    “Since you are not bound by morals or reason, neither shall I be.”

  18. Alesha says:

    This is such a genius poem.It ties with the truths of man’s being and sense of presece in the universe. However, man has no sense of obligation unless he can decide to have god as his existence or not!

  19. Sarah says:

    The way that I see this poem is that Crane is only pointing out the fact that just because you exist does not mean that you are significant. Everyone and everything makes up the universe and not one person is going to be looked upon any different than the next person.

  20. Greg Nelson says:

    The perfect poetic expression of the existentialist view of the human condition. Chilling, yet real, with a touch of humor.

  21. Lucie Guo says:

    Actually, I believe that it could be seen that the Universe does represent a deity — but that the “creator” does not hold an obligation to man merely because man exists. The universe — including the creator and all of creation — is not obligated to bring meaning and purpose into man’s life.

    And no, I do not agree that this poem has a harsh reality to it. It may be reality, but I believe that it is a rather invigorating reality. We do not have to depend on ethereal things to bring us meaning into our lives. We can BRING purpose into our own lives through the goals we create for ourselves. I find that prospect rather exciting.

  22. Keron King says:

    This poem to me exemplifies the reality that man without God is insiginificant and as a result Crane pens that the Universe sees no obligation to man simply because he exists. Hence our sigificance could never be found in the creation but in the Creator

  23. leo says:

    the man said:’i exist!but the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.”i think the man is refer to the soldier,he want to take part to the war,or he is looking for something else.

  24. oila says:

    Does it not make you feel a little vulnerable, as though there is noone to look out for you, you’re all alone and there’s noone to fall back on?

  25. Robert says:

    I like this poem it has a harsh reality to it.

  26. Bweos Slnng says:

    Men shouldn’t talk to the universe. That’s for women.

  27. Jamie Trinh says:

    Short. Simple and Profound.

  28. mike kennedy says:

    this poem is so incredible i dont know what to do with myself…

  29. JAMES MCKAY says:

    “No sir,” said the man, “There is a universe in every grain of sand… so am I in the universe.”

    • Actually as a human nature we keep urging for approvals no matter large or less…we keep asking people how does we look ,whether it is right to do such things or not etc etc…here too the man (mankind) is asking to universe (society n everyone) that ..do I exist( done any recognizable stuff or people know me) ..to that universe replies that it’s not in my hand whether you’ll be recognized or not( the fact has not created IN ME)… it’s all depends on you whatever you’ll sow you’ll reap…

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