I was investigating The Sound of Animals Fighting, a band that Chani suggested in response to my Globalize My Playlist post, and I came across their song “Ahab” from their 2008 album The Ocean and the Sun. At least, I think it’s a song. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Sample it for yourself:

I tried to make out the lyrics, but I couldn’t. So I googled the song and came up with this:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter”, he answered,
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

Interestingly, these words were not written buy members of the band. Nor were they written by Herman Melville.

These “lyrics” are in fact Stephen Crane’s poem “In the Desert,” which was included in his collection The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895). The novelist Joyce Carol Oates read the poem in college and later used its final lines as the title of her 1995 novel about a working-class city in upstate New York. In an interview with the journalist Don Swaim, Oates said that she understood the poem as “an allegory of the human condition,” in which bitterness and pleasure are intermixed, and also as an allegory of the writer’s relation to her subject. (You can listen to the interview here.)

Crane’s poem, translated into Farsi, also serves as the spoken word “Intro” to The Ocean and the Sun. The album as a whole is lousy with literary references.