Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

As is often the case in Crane’s poetry, “O Carib Isle!” relies on images and word associations to release its emotional energy. Sensuous description of a hot, dry Caribbean island stands as an extended metaphor for the dry, desolate state of the speaker’s consciousness. Ironically, it is a beautifully realized...

(The entire section contains 417 words.)

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As is often the case in Crane’s poetry, “O Carib Isle!” relies on images and word associations to release its emotional energy. Sensuous description of a hot, dry Caribbean island stands as an extended metaphor for the dry, desolate state of the speaker’s consciousness. Ironically, it is a beautifully realized poem about the failure of poetic inspiration. The poem expresses the poet’s exhausted sensibility and spiritual pessimism but creates in the poem itself a belief in something beyond himself, if only in Satan. Actually, Satan is no more present in the poem than the absent “Captain” (God). However, the depressed and weary speaker is more inclined to believe in the hot, desolate landscape of the island as hell rather than paradise.

Poetry also begins with the process of naming. However, although “name” or “names” appears four times in the first section, these appearances are in the context of generalities (“tree,” “flower,” “a name”) rather than the specific eucalyptus of poinciana named elsewhere in the poem. Furthermore, Crane chooses his specific names carefully: For example, the poinciana, a red-flowered plant, was named for a former governor of the French West Indies, M. de Poinci. The landscape is torpid, dead, or inhuman, and in some cases all three. The scuttling crabs “anagrammatize” an unstated name, thereby obliterating a specific identity and reminding the poet that any naming of the mystery of life is conditional and temporary—written in sand, to use the familiar cliché. (It has been observed that “crab” is a rearranging of the letters of “carib” with the I, or identity, deleted.) Counting shells is a way of giving order to a mind at least temporarily incapable of the richer possibilities of naming that are the beginnings of poetry. In a later and more hopeful poem, Crane seeks a transcendent “name for all.”

Although the speaker seems depressed and doubtful of transcendence, he retains some faith in his poetic powers. Many of Crane’s poems are written in four-line stanzas. “O Carib Isle!” has only one clearly delineated quatrain, whose position at the end of the poem oddly suggests a return to confidence and to a sense of himself. The richly alliterative last line, “Sere of the sun exploded in the sea,” which describes a sunless world in which human life is either nonexistent or powerless, is, perhaps ironically, a tour-de-force conclusion. Offering such triumph as sound and verbal grandeur can provide, it reads against the grim description in the rest of the poem.

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