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A learned man came to me once
A learned man came to me once.
He said, “I know the way, come.”
And I was overjoyed at this.
Together we hastened.
Soon, too soon, were we
Where my eyes were useless,
And I knew not the ways of my feet.
I clung to the hand of my friend;
But at last he cried, “I am lost.
To say much in few words is often a good way of giving enough lengthiness in poem or prose. Stephen Crane demonstrates the profundity of words in communicating a short message in “A learned man came to me once.” With a single stanza and without relying on many of the traditional elements of poetry, he shows the futility of the search for knowledge and wisdom; he does this through reliance on imagery and metaphor.
Crane brings what is typically expressed as simply an adage and brings it to life with a quaint story. The story is expressed through a poem that is open and lacks a detailed structure. There are no rhymes nor meter. Instead, there are employed typical elements of stories. Two direct quotes are used to show the fall of the man. What starts as unbridled optimism in a man who the narrator considers learned is expressed through one who knows the way and wants to share it. He ends by saying that at last, “I am lost.” So the journey is told, as the tutor takes the narrator, the pupil, through a journey that goes nowhere.
The poem is told in a similar manner to a story, as the action occurs, and a story is narrated. In this way, what is told brings up imagery. The imagery is not explicit, but how the reader is brought to the same journey with the narrator, a journey that ultimately leads to despair. It is what it invokes. It does not need to express the emotions, but it instead brings the reader to feel the same way that the narrator did.
This poem, which ultimately serves as an extended metaphor of the futility of the search for knowledge, shows how the wise can think they are wise, but the more they search and discover, the more that they discover that it is precisely the opposite: the search for knowledge leads only to more ignorance, as it shows there is more to be known.
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