Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Voyages” is a sequence of love lyrics, and there is no literary theme more universal than love; neither is there one more fraught with bewitchment, bother, and bewilderment. For purely autobiographical reasons, Crane also made this love sequence a commentary on man and his relationship with the sea. The irony is that depicting the separated lovers as individuals between whom there is an unbreachable barrier of time and space was not only true to biographical detail but also added to the metaphorical dimensions of the love theme.

The pain of separation is so immense that it can seem to be akin to, if not a species of, death. Thus love poetry finds in the lover’s separation from the object of affection a deeper meaning: the individual’s sense of separation from his Creator and from some primordial sense of innocence and union with the external universe.

“Voyages” develops and explores all these themes. The children who play upon the shore are any innocents who do not yet know the perilous nature of the voyage, life, that is awaiting them. That the sea is presented in images of both mother and tormentor, lover and rival, reflects on the individual’s inability to reconcile the notion of a loving Creator with fears of an indifferent or malicious universe.

In such an existential maelstrom, it is no wonder that the requited love of a fellow mortal who is equally estranged and alienated yet still willing to cast his fate with his lover’s is a balm, a boon, and—when there must be separation—a bane.

Crane carries this notion through to its logical conclusion, and that is what makes “Voyages” a consummate achievement. Even when there is physical presence, all human beings are separate entities, able to sympathize but incapable forever, at least in this world, of the total and complete union that the human soul seems to crave. Part 6 of “Voyages” confirms this truth and then goes on to posit a larger one: It is in the spirit that all people are already joined; therefore, there is no such thing as separation. Consequently, each person is, for every other, “the imaged Word . . ./ Whose accent no farewell can know.”