The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Hart Crane’s “Chaplinesque” is a poem in five stanzas, the first two containing four lines each, the last three with five lines each. The title introduces the central metaphor of the poem, the film actor and comedian Charlie Chaplin. The poem is a striking dramatization of the tenuous position in modern society of those who are, for whatever reason, excluded from the establishment. The persona, the “we” of the poem, represents all outsiders, not only poets and other artists—although they are central to Crane’s vision—but also all sensitive and feeling people who do not fit into the structured society. Although Crane sees the human condition as rather bleak and tragic, he finds brief but welcome consolation in elements of everyday life as well as in kindness, imagination, and humor.

The first stanza states in simple terms what compromises (“meek adjustments”) human beings must make in order to survive in a hostile environment. The world Crane portrays is naturalistic, materialistic, judgmental, and insensitive to the feeling, caring person. No matter what one’s expectations, he or she must learn to be satisfied with whatever occasional benefits are supplied, unexpectedly and without rational pattern, by nature or fate.

Both stanza 1 and stanza 2 refer to Charlie Chaplin in his most famous role, that of the “Little Tramp” in his baggy and tattered costume. In the first stanza, Crane describes the large pockets of the...

(The entire section is 518 words.)