The human actors on the natural stage fit right in, repeatedly brought up at some point in the cycle of violence, war, and death that circles Crane’s poems. These men, “born to drill and die (75)”, are typically unaware of their plight, fooled into believing that pride and valor come from their strivings; the emptiness of red badges of courage is lost on the zealous characters scattered throughout the collection. And whether spending one’s days in bliss, earnestness, or detachment, all is flattened out into this shared experience of death:
"An hour, with its million trinkets of joy or pain,
Matters little in cellar or merry den
Since all is death." (148)
The source of this terrible reality, for Crane, is God. Man and beast are often complicit (despite their claims otherwise), but the one that “fashioned the ship of the world carefully” is distracted, letting the ship slip into chaos, “forever rudderless (VI)”. This God, presumably of the Christian faith, is called the “Father of the Never-Ending Circles (The Battle Hymn)” and a great “battle-god” with his kingdom: “A field where a thousand corpses lie (75).” The “clang of swords” is attributed as divine wisdom (136). As the sea, “God is cold (138)” is a refrain in one piece.
At times Crane seems to defy primarily the God of the Bible, responding to a segment of the 10 commandments with, “I hate thee, unrighteous picture (XII)”. It is common for Crane to object to pictures, or images of gods, and his defies these conceptions of deity as untrue or, if true, unworthy of reverence:
Stamping across the sky
With loud swagger,
I fear you not." (LIII)
He is unimpressed with the gods presented to him by others:
"You tell me this is God?
I tell you this is a printed list,
A burning candle and an ass." (87)
And while the poetic voice points out the façade that can be the piety of many (a man dabbles with a strange god, only to flee to the “god of his inner thoughts” in poem LI), he resigns to settling for his own imagination of deity: