The Poem

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...

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Forms and Devices

The lines in “Chaplinesque” are uneven in length, and there is no predominant meter, although some are in iambic pentameter. There is only one full rhyme (“lies”/“enterprise”), but Crane uses three examples of assonance (“deposits”/“pockets”; “know”/ “coverts”; “quest”/“wilderness”). The tone is conversational and understated, the feelings carefully controlled, even though the subject matter is intensely emotional, concerning pains and disappointments and the difficulty of surviving in an unfriendly world. The way in which Crane employs some words is startling and unique, for example, “coverts,” “obsequies,” and “grail.”

The point of view is that of a first-person plural narrator who seems to speak not only for poets but also for all those excluded from conventional society. In the first four lines he introduces the major metaphor, a comparison of the human dilemma to an easily recognized cultural icon, the “Little Tramp” portrayed by Charlie Chaplin. Several lines refer to specific scenes in the Chaplin film entitled The Kid, released the year Crane wrote the poem.

Chaplin’s actions in the role are stylized, like pantomime, with jerky exaggerated movements similar to those of a puppet. Chaplin was always identified with his distinctive costume and props, including the cane that contributed, through its flexibility, to the well-choreographed pratfalls or near-falls (“these fine...

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