Poetic Spotlight: Fast rode the knight

Formal portrait of Stephen Crane, taken in Was...

Public Domain portrait of Stephen Crane; image itself via Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s poetic spotlight falls on an ode to the changing of an age, to the death of the dream-like chivalry to which man once clung, and the rise of the horror of grim reality. “Fast rode the knight” is a famous work by one Stephen Crane, an American novelist, short story writer, poet and (this journalist’s heart be still) journalist. He was a hallmark of the late 19th century, and one of the foremost examples of the rise of the realist tradition in literature. He is perhaps best known, however, for his novel, The Red Badge of Courage, which is still wide-read in classrooms today.

But then, this little poem has a special place in my heart. This particular work, capturing as it does so perfectly the death of romanticism, once inspired and spawned from a more modern inspiration/incarnation by my own hand titled “Beside the Trenches,” a poem revolving around another great waking moment in man’s history: WWI. But now, without further adieu, I give you Crane’s original:

“Fast rode the knight”

Fast rode the knight
With spurs, hot and reeking,
Ever waving an eager sword,
“To save my lady!”
Fast rode the knight,
And leaped from saddle to war.
Men of steel flickered and gleamed
Like riot of silver lights,
And the gold of the knight’s good banner
Still waved on a castle wall.
. . . . .
A horse,
Blowing, staggering, bloody thing,
Forgotten at foot of castle wall.
A horse
Dead at foot of castle wall.

~Stephen Crane

Beside the Trenches

Gallant cried the horseman

saddled with his cloth and care,

rattling his salivating saber

to a bugle’s tune of God and Country.

There were no spurs so swift

beyond the field where trenches lay.

The drums and alarums still rattled banners

as man and beast gave rise to dusted glory,

untouchable, their raucous shadow lines where

gallant cried the horseman.


Barbed wire bound it,

lurching, whistling, wrangled thing,

torn beside the steaming trench.

A horse,

dead beside the steaming trench.

Today, I’m trying something a little different here at the Waking Den. Poetry remains the name of the game, but this is a piece inspired, and built upon the basis of another, far older work, you may recall–Stephen Crane’s infamous “Fast rode the knight”. A testament to the transition of ages, and to the horrors of war, his work was an elegy to the medieval. However, war is a timeless thing, and our folly never resigned to one age or another – and in his words, I personally always saw the potential for application to WWI.

Trenches were the walls then. Our gallant knights instead well-dressed officers still possessed of honours and ideals the machine gun, and gas, and all the other horrors of that time would horrifically subdue. And so I worked a touch of modernization…hopefully without offending anyone; but then, that’s why this explanation was here. I hope you enjoyed, and I encourage you to read Crane’s original as well.