by Hart Crane

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

This poem relies heavily on allusion—indirect references to another text, character, or setting—in order to poignantly affect the reader's feelings and to make a point. The title refers to a British silent movie era actor named Charlie Chaplin. His most famous role was that of "The Tramp" or "the little tramp," a homeless man who acts like a high-born gentleman. The discrepancy between his very low social status and his upper-class manners creates a humorous irony. The Tramp is a lovable character, with his baggy clothes, bendy cane, and big heart. The title of the poem seems to suggest that there is an entire class of people who are Chaplinesque in terms of their similarity to this character: society's outcasts who must make their own way in a community that is judgmental of them and hostile to them. The Tramp's clothes are too baggy in places and he is rather hapless, but he possesses an innocence that those people who are more materialistic and mainstream lack.

The Chaplinesque people are the ones who can find a "grail of laughter" in an empty garbage can or some other mundane and everyday object. They do not value something based on how much money it is worth or how much it might benefit them; they value the "random consolations" they find, the things that accidentally make them happy. They also value their hearts and their humanity, and—no matter what else is going on around them, no matter what they or other people are doing—they can always hear the "kitten in the wilderness." Though they have been shown so little love or appreciation, they know how to "love the world" and the starving kitten anyway, just as the Tramp does. With the poem's multiple allusions to Chaplin's most famous character, the poet succeeds in borrowing the comedy and pathos of the Tramp and impressing upon readers the beauty and poignancy of such a life and such a person.

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