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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Stephen Crane: "A man saw a ball of gold..."


File:Entering a Lunar Outpost.jpg

Astronauts entering a Lunar outpost: concept art by NASA, 15 May 2006 (NASA)

A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;
He climbed for it,
And eventually he achieved it --
It was clay.

Now this is the strange part:

When the man went to the earth
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold.
Now this is the strange part:
It was a ball of gold.
Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.

Lunar base and extra-base activity: concept art by NASA/Dennis Davidson, June 1986 (NASA)

for Ron Padgett

Stephen Crane: "A man saw a ball of gold...", from The Black Riders and Other Lines, 1895


Anonymous said...

There is a lightness and a heaviness, a goldness and a clayness, and a mystery and a clarity to this that is very engaging and seems large in scale considering the small size of the work itself. It's fascinating also to see how the NASA concept artist's style has subtly evolved over 20 years. Personally, I'm very sorry that we've delayed returning to the moon this long (and apparently have now decided to delay this a lot longer), whatever contradictions and limitations attend the journey. (I hope they haven't fired the NASA concept artist. Perhaps they've just reassigned him to other concept duties, assuming there are any ideas left. ) Reading biographical materials about Crane livened and lightened the morning.

TC said...


The image of Crane writing at fever pitch (and drinking, and chain-smoking...), while literally in a state of fever, to pay off accumulated debts from his high living, and then dying at 29, of t.b., in a sanatorium in the Black Forest, is painful to hold in one's mind.

But then I suppose the uniqueness of poems like these two would have had to have an unusual life behind it.

As to the NASA concept art, it took me a bit of close stylistic analysis to determine that these two remarkable works were actually (apparently) "generated" by different "concept artists".

Do you suppose NASA, in its infinite sagesse, was aware that it was always way out ahead of the curve, and that Conceptualism was going to be the Next Big Thing??

Anonymous said...

I never ever underestimate NASA's sagesse.

kent said...


Reading these two poems by Crane (re: "Desert") at the age of 14 was MY revelation. This was serious. This made time stop. This was hilarious. This was how you connect your (my) short life on this earth with all the time everywhere else that ever would be. This is how you testify. This is how: you write it.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that it would be you who would bring these back home to roost.

gamefaced said...

and another. the man is greatness.

IAM Retiree Bloggers said...

A broad comment--I really love your writing, Tom, especially loved the baseball-themed writing of the 1970s. Aside from that, I want to thank you for sharing the amazing photographs posted on this blog. They inspire me at every turn.

Ron Harrell



Perhaps the two NASA conceptual artists (1986, 2006) were inspired by Herge's Explorers on the Moon (1954), the 17th volume of his Adventures of Tintin, whose drawings it seems were themselves inspired ("When the comic was created, nobody had actually visited the lunar surface, so the drawings were based on Chesley Bonestell’s pictures from Willy Ley's book The Conquest of Space, and from Collier's magazine illustrations"). In any case, as Crane notes, "Lo, there was the ball of gold". . . .


silver edge of sun in grey-white clouds
above ridge, shadowed green pine branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

painting of that, like other
repetition of drawing

is being present, each “now”
in its passing, which

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
grey whiteness of clouds on the horizon

TC said...

Ah, so happy not to be alone in loving this poem... said he, as a ball of gold poked through the fog...

bill sherman said...

hey, Tom...thought you might do Crane's "I saw a man pursuing the horizon" and/or "There was a man with a tongue of wood" ... anyway, you and yours "keep on keeping on" bill.

TC said...


Thanks for suggesting this one.

And while we're at it, here's a variant on everything that glitters....

Which, in turn, reminded me of a common interest of ours.