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Best Famous Stephen Vincent Benet Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous Stephen Vincent Benet poems. This is a select list of the best famous Stephen Vincent Benet poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous Stephen Vincent Benet poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of Stephen Vincent Benet poems.

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Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Going Back to School

 The boat ploughed on.
Now Alcatraz was past And all the grey waves flamed to red again At the dead sun's last glimmer.
Far and vast The Sausalito lights burned suddenly In little dots and clumps, as if a pen Had scrawled vague lines of gold across the hills; The sky was like a cup some rare wine fills, And stars came as he watched -- and he was free One splendid instant -- back in the great room, Curled in a chair with all of them beside And the whole world a rush of happy voices, With laughter beating in a clamorous tide.
Saw once again the heat of harvest fume Up to the empty sky in threads like glass, And ran, and was a part of what rejoices In thunderous nights of rain; lay in the grass Sun-baked and tired, looking through a maze Of tiny stems into a new green world; Once more knew eves of perfume, days ablaze With clear, dry heat on the brown, rolling fields; Shuddered with fearful ecstasy in bed Over a book of knights and bloody shields .
The ship slowed, jarred and stopped.
There, straight ahead, Were dock and fellows.
Stumbling, he was whirled Out and away to meet them -- and his back Slumped to the old half-cringe, his hands fell slack; A big boy's arm went round him -- and a twist Sent shattering pain along his tortured wrist, As a voice cried, a bloated voice and fat, "Why it's Miss Nancy! Come along, you rat!"

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Portrait of a Baby

 He lay within a warm, soft world 
Of motion.
Colors bloomed and fled, Maroon and turquoise, saffron, red, Wave upon wave that broke and whirled To vanish in the grey-green gloom, Perspectiveless and shadowy.
A bulging world that had no walls, A flowing world, most like the sea, Compassing all infinity Within a shapeless, ebbing room, An endless tide that swells and falls .
He slept and woke and slept again.
As a veil drops Time dropped away; Space grew a toy for children's play, Sleep bolted fast the gates of Sense -- He lay in naked impotence; Like a drenched moth that creeps and crawls Heavily up brown, light-baked walls, To fall in wreck, her task undone, Yet somehow striving toward the sun.
So, as he slept, his hands clenched tighter, Shut in the old way of the fighter, His feet curled up to grip the ground, His muscles tautened for a bound; And though he felt, and felt alone, Strange brightness stirred him to the bone, Cravings to rise -- till deeper sleep Buried the hope, the call, the leap; A wind puffed out his mind's faint spark.
He was absorbed into the dark.
He woke again and felt a surge Within him, a mysterious urge That grew one hungry flame of passion; The whole world altered shape and fashion.
Deceived, befooled, bereft and torn, He scourged the heavens with his scorn, Lifting a bitter voice to cry Against the eternal treachery -- Till, suddenly, he found the breast, And ceased, and all things were at rest, The earth grew one warm languid sea And he a wave.
Joy, tingling, crept Throughout him.
He was quenched and slept.
So, while the moon made broad her ring, He slept and cried and was a king.
So, worthily, he acted o'er The endless miracle once more.
Facing immense adventures daily, He strove still onward, weeping, gaily, Conquered or fled from them, but grew As soil-starved, rough pine-saplings do.
Till, one day, crawling seemed suspect.
He gripped the air and stood erect And splendid.
With immortal rage He entered on man's heritage!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Portrait of a Boy

 After the whipping he crawled into bed, 
Accepting the harsh fact with no great weeping.
How funny uncle's hat had looked striped red! He chuckled silently.
The moon came, sweeping A black, frayed rag of tattered cloud before In scorning; very pure and pale she seemed, Flooding his bed with radiance.
On the floor Fat motes danced.
He sobbed, closed his eyes and dreamed.
Warm sand flowed round him.
Blurts of crimson light Splashed the white grains like blood.
Past the cave's mouth Shone with a large, fierce splendor, wildly bright, The crooked constellations of the South; Here the Cross swung; and there, affronting Mars, The Centaur stormed aside a froth of stars.
Within, great casks, like wattled aldermen, Sighed of enormous feasts, and cloth of gold Glowed on the walls like hot desire.
Again, Beside webbed purples from some galleon's hold, A black chest bore the skull and bones in white Above a scrawled "Gunpowder!" By the flames, Decked out in crimson, gemmed with syenite, Hailing their fellows with outrageous names, The pirates sat and diced.
Their eyes were moons.
"Doubloons!" they said.
The words crashed gold.

More great poems below...

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Winged Man

 The moon, a sweeping scimitar, dipped in the stormy straits, 
The dawn, a crimson cataract, burst through the eastern gates, 
The cliffs were robed in scarlet, the sands were cinnabar, 
Where first two men spread wings for flight and dared the hawk afar.
There stands the cunning workman, the crafty past all praise, The man who chained the Minotaur, the man who built the Maze.
His young son is beside him and the boy's face is a light, A light of dawn and wonder and of valor infinite.
Their great vans beat the cloven air, like eagles they mount up, Motes in the wine of morning, specks in a crystal cup, And lest his wings should melt apace old Daedalus flies low, But Icarus beats up, beats up, he goes where lightnings go.
He cares no more for warnings, he rushes through the sky, Braving the crags of ether, daring the gods on high, Black 'gainst the crimson sunset, golden o'er cloudy snows, With all Adventure in his heart the first winged man arose.
Dropping gold, dropping gold, where the mists of morning rolled, On he kept his way undaunted, though his breaths were stabs of cold, Through the mystery of dawning that no mortal may behold.
Now he shouts, now he sings in the rapture of his wings, And his great heart burns intenser with the strength of his desire, As he circles like a swallow, wheeling, flaming, gyre on gyre.
Gazing straight at the sun, half his pilgrimage is done, And he staggers for a moment, hurries on, reels backward, swerves In a rain of scattered feathers as he falls in broken curves.
Icarus, Icarus, though the end is piteous, Yet forever, yea, forever we shall see thee rising thus, See the first supernal glory, not the ruin hideous.
You were Man, you who ran farther than our eyes can scan, Man absurd, gigantic, eager for impossible Romance, Overthrowing all Hell's legions with one warped and broken lance.
On the highest steeps of Space he will have his dwelling-place, In those far, terrific regions where the cold comes down like Death Gleams the red glint of his pinions, smokes the vapor of his breath.
Floating downward, very clear, still the echoes reach the ear Of a little tune he whistles and a little song he sings, Mounting, mounting still, triumphant, on his torn and broken wings!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

The Breaking Point

 It was not when temptation came, 
Swiftly and blastingly as flame, 
And seared me white with burning scars; 
When I stood up for age-long wars 
And held the very Fiend at grips; 
When all my mutinous body rose 
To range itself beside my foes, 
And, like a greyhound in the slips, 
The Beast that dwells within me roared, 
Lunging and straining at his cord.
For all the blusterings of Hell, It was not then I slipped and fell; For all the storm, for all the hate, I kept my soul inviolate! But when the fight was fought and won, And there was Peace as still as Death On everything beneath the sun.
Just as I started to draw breath, And yawn, and stretch, and pat myself, -- The grass began to whisper things -- And every tree became an elf, That grinned and chuckled counsellings: Birds, beasts, one thing alone they said, Beating and dinning at my head.
I could not fly.
I could not shun it.
Slimily twisting, slow and blind, It crept and crept into my mind.
Whispered and shouted, sneered and laughed, Screamed out until my brain was daft.
One snaky word, "What if you'd done it?" And I began to think .
Ah, well, What matter how I slipped and fell? Or you, you gutter-searcher say! Tell where you found me yesterday!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Poor Devil!

 Well, I was tired of life; the silly folk, 
The tiresome noises, all the common things 
I loved once, crushed me with an iron yoke.
I longed for the cool quiet and the dark, Under the common sod where louts and kings Lie down, serene, unheeding, careless, stark, Never to rise or move or feel again, Filled with the ecstasy of being dead.
I put the shining pistol to my head And pulled the trigger hard -- I felt no pain, No pain at all; the pistol had missed fire I thought; then, looking at the floor, I saw My huddled body lying there -- and awe Swept over me.
I trembled -- and looked up.
About me was -- not that, my heart's desire, That small and dark abode of death and peace -- But all from which I sought a vain release! The sky, the people and the staring sun Glared at me as before.
I was undone.
My last state ten times worse than was my first.
Helpless I stood, befooled, betrayed, accursed, Fettered to Life forever, horribly; Caught in the meshes of Eternity, No further doors to break or bars to burst!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |


 My friend went to the piano; spun the stool 
A little higher; left his pipe to cool; 
Picked up a fat green volume from the chest; 
And propped it open.
Whitely without rest, His fingers swept the keys that flashed like swords, .
And to the brute drums of barbarian hordes, Roaring and thunderous and weapon-bare, An army stormed the bastions of the air! Dreadful with banners, fire to slay and parch, Marching together as the lightnings march, And swift as storm-clouds.
Brazen helms and cars Clanged to a fierce resurgence of old wars Above the screaming horns.
In state they passed, Trampling and splendid on and sought the vast -- Rending the darkness like a leaping knife, The flame, the noble pageant of our life! The burning seal that stamps man's high indenture To vain attempt and most forlorn adventure; Romance, and purple seas, and toppling towns, And the wind's valiance crying o'er the downs; That nerves the silly hand, the feeble brain, From the loose net of words to deeds again And to all courage! Perilous and sharp The last chord shook me as wind shakes a harp! .
And my friend swung round on his stool, and from gods we were men, "How pretty!" we said; and went on with our talk again.

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Elegy for an Enemy

 (For G.
) Say, does that stupid earth Where they have laid her, Bind still her sullen mirth, Mirth which betrayed her? Do the lush grasses hold, Greenly and glad, That brittle-perfect gold She alone had? Smugly the common crew, Over their knitting, Mourn her -- as butchers do Sheep-throats they're slitting! She was my enemy, One of the best of them.
Would she come back to me, God damn the rest of them! Damn them, the flabby, fat, Sleek little darlings! We gave them tit for tat, Snarlings for snarlings! Squashy pomposities, Shocked at our violence, Let not one tactful hiss Break her new silence! Maids of antiquity, Look well upon her; Ice was her chastity, Spotless her honor.
Neighbors, with breasts of snow, Dames of much virtue, How she could flame and glow! Lord, how she hurt you! She was a woman, and Tender -- at times! (Delicate was her hand) One of her crimes! Hair that strayed elfinly, Lips red as haws, You, with the ready lie, Was that the cause? Rest you, my enemy, Slain without fault, Life smacks but tastelessly Lacking your salt! Stuck in a bog whence naught May catapult me, Come from the grave, long-sought, Come and insult me! WE knew that sugared stuff Poisoned the other; Rough as the wind is rough, Sister and brother! Breathing the ether clear Others forlorn have found -- Oh, for that peace austere She and her scorn have found!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |


 (For D.
) The little man with the vague beard and guise Pulled at the wicket.
"Come inside!" he said, "I'll show you all we've got now -- it was size You wanted? -- oh, dry colors! Well" -- he led To a dim alley lined with musty bins, And pulled one fiercely.
Violent and bold A sudden tempest of mad, shrieking sins Scarlet screamed out above the battered gold Of tins and picture-frames.
I held my breath.
He tugged another hard -- and sapphire skies Spread in vast quietude, serene as death, O'er waves like crackled turquoise -- and my eyes Burnt with the blinding brilliance of calm sea! "We're selling that lot there out cheap!" said he.

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Dinner in a Quick Lunch Room

 Soup should be heralded with a mellow horn, 
Blowing clear notes of gold against the stars; 
Strange entrees with a jangle of glass bars 
Fantastically alive with subtle scorn; 
Fish, by a plopping, gurgling rush of waters, 
Clear, vibrant waters, beautifully austere; 
Roast, with a thunder of drums to stun the ear, 
A screaming fife, a voice from ancient slaughters! 

Over the salad let the woodwinds moan; 
Then the green silence of many watercresses; 
Dessert, a balalaika, strummed alone; 
Coffee, a slow, low singing no passion stresses; 
Such are my thoughts as -- clang! crash! bang! -- I brood 
And gorge the sticky mess these fools call food!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

The City Revisited

 The grey gulls drift across the bay 
Softly and still as flakes of snow 
Against the thinning fog.
All day I sat and watched them come and go; And now at last the sun was set, Filling the waves with colored fire Till each seemed like a jewelled spire Thrust up from some drowned city.
Soon From peak and cliff and minaret The city's lights began to wink, Each like a friendly word.
The moon Began to broaden out her shield, Spurting with silver.
Straight before The brown hills lay like quiet beasts Stretched out beside a well-loved door, And filling earth and sky and field With the calm heaving of their breasts.
Nothing was gone, nothing was changed, The smallest wave was unestranged By all the long ache of the years Since last I saw them, blind with tears.
Their welcome like the hills stood fast: And I, I had come home at last.
So I laughed out with them aloud To think that now the sun was broad, And climbing up the iron sky, Where the raw streets stretched sullenly About another room I knew, In a mean house -- and soon there, too, The smith would burst the flimsy door And find me lying on the floor.
Just where I fell the other night, After that breaking wave of pain.
-- How they will storm and rage and fight, Servants and mistress, one and all, "No money for the funeral!" I broke my life there.
Let it stand At that.
The waters are a plain, Heaving and bright on either hand, A tremulous and lustral peace Which shall endure though all things cease, Filling my heart as water fills A cup.
There stand the quiet hills.
So, waiting for my wings to grow, I watch the gulls sail to and fro, Rising and falling, soft and swift, Drifting along as bubbles drift.
And, though I see the face of God Hereafter -- this day have I trod Nearer to Him than I shall tread Ever again.
The night is dead.
And there's the dawn, poured out like wine Along the dim horizon-line.
And from the city comes the chimes -- We have our heaven on earth -- sometimes!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

The Innovator

 (A Pharaoh Speaks.
) I said, "Why should a pyramid Stand always dully on its base? I'll change it! Let the top be hid, The bottom take the apex-place!" And as I bade they did.
The people flocked in, scores on scores, To see it balance on its tip.
They praised me with the praise that bores, My godlike mind on every lip.
-- Until it fell, of course.
And then they took my body out From my crushed palace, mad with rage, -- Well, half the town WAS wrecked, no doubt -- Their crazy anger to assuage By dragging it about.
The end? Foul birds defile my skull.
The new king's praises fill the land.
He clings to precept, simple, dull; HIS pyramids on bases stand.
But -- Lord, how usual!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Young Blood

 "But, sir," I said, "they tell me the man is like to die!" The Canon shook his head indulgently.
"Young blood, Cousin," he boomed.
"Young blood! Youth will be served!" -- D'Hermonville's Fabliaux.
He woke up with a sick taste in his mouth And lay there heavily, while dancing motes Whirled through his brain in endless, rippling streams, And a grey mist weighed down upon his eyes So that they could not open fully.
Yet After some time his blurred mind stumbled back To its last ragged memory -- a room; Air foul with wine; a shouting, reeling crowd Of friends who dragged him, dazed and blind with drink Out to the street; a crazy rout of cabs; The steady mutter of his neighbor's voice, Mumbling out dull obscenity by rote; And then .
well, they had brought him home it seemed, Since he awoke in bed -- oh, damn the business! He had not wanted it -- the silly jokes, "One last, great night of freedom ere you're married!" "You'll get no fun then!" "H-ssh, don't tell that story! He'll have a wife soon!" -- God! the sitting down To drink till you were sodden! .
Like great light She came into his thoughts.
That was the worst.
To wallow in the mud like this because His friends were fools.
He was not fit to touch, To see, oh far, far off, that silver place Where God stood manifest to man in her.
Fouling himself.
One thing he brought to her, At least.
He had been clean; had taken it A kind of point of honor from the first .
Others might do it .
but he didn't care For those things.
Suddenly his vision cleared.
And something seemed to grow within his mind.
Something was wrong -- the color of the wall -- The queer shape of the bedposts -- everything Was changed, somehow .
his room.
Was this his room? .
He turned his head -- and saw beside him there The sagging body's slope, the paint-smeared face, And the loose, open mouth, lax and awry, The breasts, the bleached and brittle hair .
these things.
As if all Hell were crushed to one bright line Of lightning for a moment.
Then he sank, Prone beneath an intolerable weight.
And bitter loathing crept up all his limbs.

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |

Alexander VI Dines with the Cardinal of Capua

 Next, then, the peacock, gilt 
With all its feathers.
Look, what gorgeous dyes Flow in the eyes! And how deep, lustrous greens are splashed and spilt Along the back, that like a sea-wave's crest Scatters soft beauty o'er th' emblazoned breast! A strange fowl! But most fit For feasts like this, whereby I honor one Pure as the sun! Yet glowing with the fiery zeal of it! Some wine? Your goblet's empty? Let it foam! It is not often that you come to Rome! You like the Venice glass? Rippled with lines that float like women's curls, Neck like a girl's, Fierce-glowing as a chalice in the Mass? You start -- 'twas artist then, not Pope who spoke! Ave Maria stella! -- ah, it broke! 'Tis said they break alone When poison writhes within.
A foolish tale! What, you look pale? Caraffa, fetch a silver cup! .
You own A Birth of Venus, now -- or so I've heard, Lovely as the breast-plumage of a bird.
Also a Dancing Faun, Hewn with the lithe grace of Praxiteles; Globed pearls to please A sultan; golden veils that drop like lawn -- How happy I could be with but a tithe Of your possessions, fortunate one! Don't writhe But take these cushions here! Now for the fruit! Great peaches, satin-skinned, Rough tamarind, Pomegranates red as lips -- oh they come dear! But men like you we feast at any price -- A plum perhaps? They're looking rather nice! I'll cut the thing in half.
There's yours! Now, with a one-side-poisoned knife One might snuff life And leave one's friend with -- "fool" for epitaph! An old trick? Truth! But when one has the itch For pretty things and isn't very rich.
There, eat it all or I'll Be angry! You feel giddy? Well, it's hot! This bergamot Take home and smell -- it purges blood of bile! And when you kiss Bianca's dimpled knee, Think of the poor Pope in his misery! Now you may kiss my ring! Ho there, the Cardinal's litter! -- You must dine When the new wine Is in, again with me -- hear Bice sing, Even admire my frescoes -- though they're nought Beside the calm Greek glories you have bought! Godspeed, Sir Cardinal! And take a weak man's blessing! Help him there To the cool air! .
Lucrezia here? You're ready for the ball? -- He'll die within ten hours, I suppose -- Mhm! Kiss your poor old father, little rose!

Written by Stephen Vincent Benet |


 Tobacco smoke drifts up to the dim ceiling 
From half a dozen pipes and cigarettes, 
Curling in endless shapes, in blue rings wheeling, 
As formless as our talk.
Phil, drawling, bets Cornell will win the relay in a walk, While Bob and Mac discuss the Giants' chances; Deep in a morris-chair, Bill scowls at "Falk", John gives large views about the last few dances.
And so it goes -- an idle speech and aimless, A few chance phrases; yet I see behind The empty words the gleam of a beauty tameless, Friendship and peace and fire to strike men blind, Till the whole world seems small and bright to hold -- Of all our youth this hour is pure gold.