The Black Riders

by Stephen Crane

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What is the meaning of the poem "Mystic shadow" from The Black Riders by Stephen Crane?

Mystic shadow, bending near me, Who art thou?
Whence come ye?
And-tell me-is it fair
Or is the truth bitter as eaten fire?
Tell me!
Fear not that I should quaver.
For I dare-I dare.
Then, tell me!

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This collection of poems by Stephen Crane are in part philosophical musings based on specific moments experienced by the author. Many of the poems seek to speculate about these experiences and offer some kind of remedy for the various ills of life. In this poem, it is clear that the speaker is experiencing some sort of visitation or is aware of some presence, which is refered to as the "mystic shadow" of the first line. It is clear from the question that the speaker asks this presence that the speaker believes this "mystic shadow" possesses knowledge that is normally kept hidden from humans, as the speaker asks if the "truth" is "bitter as eaten fire." However, what stands out is the courage and the resolution of the speaker to receive the answer, whatever it may be:

Or is the truth bitter as eaten fire? Tell me! Fear not that I should quaver. For I dare--I dare.

The poem ends with a final determined urging on the part of the speaker to be told the truth by this "mystic shadow." The poem thus explores the perception of reality by humans and captures the grim determination of the speaker to find out the truth, whatever the consequences. The poem is about daring to face the truth, whatever that is, and man's determination to find answers about the universe.

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