by Hart Crane

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Chaplinesque" is a poem by Hart Crane. The title of the poem refers to a man named Charlie Chaplin, an English comedic actor who became popular worldwide during the era of silent films. He was most famous for his role as "the little Tramp," a homeless but childlike character who tries to act like a gentleman, creating a humorous and poignant irony out of the discrepancy between his actual social status and how he behaves.

In the first stanza, the speaker seems to refer to the life of people who are not really accepted by society and the "meek adjustments" people like this make in order to get by in the harsh world. In using the first-person plural pronoun "We," he makes it clear that he is one of these outcast people who must content themselves with "random consolations," small and accidental moments of happiness that they find in a world in which they are not really wanted. In the second stanza, the speaker confesses that, despite the fact that the world does not love them, these individuals "can still love the world." They can still help, for example, a starving kitten (as the little Tramp does) and protect it from the "fury of the street."

In the third stanza, the speaker claims that people like him will "sidestep" the world of materialism, where businessmen count their money and value people and things only in terms of their financial worth. These outsiders will retain their "innocence" and sense of wonder, even when surrounded by people whose only expression is a wonderless and uninspired "dull squint." In the fourth stanza, the speaker recalls the humorous image of Chaplin as the little tramp performing with his very "pliant cane," and he suggests that these individuals die too, escaping the world's judgment and derision. The only thing they cannot avoid is the feeling of their own hearts.

Tthe fifth stanza concludes that although people around them may "smirk," it is these outcasts who can find the laughter and joy in everyday things that may look like nothing at all to anyone else. Further, they can also still hear the sound of the helpless kitten and keep their hearts open to helping such a frail creature. These people retain their humanity while the rest do not.

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