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Best Famous Stephen Vincent Benet Poems

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Written by Stephen Vincent Benet | |

Colors

 (For D.
M.
C.
) 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 | |

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 | |

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!


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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 .
.
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Others might do it .
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but he didn't care For those things.
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.
.
Suddenly his vision cleared.
And something seemed to grow within his mind.
.
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.
Something was wrong -- the color of the wall -- The queer shape of the bedposts -- everything Was changed, somehow .
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his room.
Was this his room? .
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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 .
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these things.
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.
.
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 | |

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.
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.
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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 | |

Lonely Burial

 There were not many at that lonely place, 
Where two scourged hills met in a little plain.
The wind cried loud in gusts, then low again.
Three pines strained darkly, runners in a race Unseen by any.
Toward the further woods A dim harsh noise of voices rose and ceased.
-- We were most silent in those solitudes -- Then, sudden as a flame, the black-robed priest, The clotted earth piled roughly up about The hacked red oblong of the new-made thing, Short words in swordlike Latin -- and a rout Of dreams most impotent, unwearying.
Then, like a blind door shut on a carouse, The terrible bareness of the soul's last house.


Written by Stephen Vincent Benet | |

Love in Twilight

 There is darkness behind the light -- and the pale light drips 
Cold on vague shapes and figures, that, half-seen loom 
Like the carven prows of proud, far-triumphing ships -- 
And the firelight wavers and changes about the room, 

As the three logs crackle and burn with a small still sound; 
Half-blotting with dark the deeper dark of her hair, 
Where she lies, head pillowed on arm, and one hand curved round 
To shield the white face and neck from the faint thin glare.
Gently she breathes -- and the long limbs lie at ease, And the rise and fall of the young, slim, virginal breast Is as certain-sweet as the march of slow wind through trees, Or the great soft passage of clouds in a sky at rest.
I kneel, and our arms enlace, and we kiss long, long.
I am drowned in her as in sleep.
There is no more pain.
Only the rustle of flames like a broken song That rings half-heard through the dusty halls of the brain.
One shaking and fragile moment of ecstasy, While the grey gloom flutters and beats like an owl above.
And I would not move or speak for the sea or the sky Or the flame-bright wings of the miraculous Dove!


Written by Stephen Vincent Benet | |

Music

 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 | |

Nos Immortales

 Perhaps we go with wind and cloud and sun, 
Into the free companionship of air; 
Perhaps with sunsets when the day is done, 
All's one to me -- I do not greatly care; 
So long as there are brown hills -- and a tree 
Like a mad prophet in a land of dearth -- 
And I can lie and hear eternally 
The vast monotonous breathing of the earth.
I have known hours, slow and golden-glowing, Lovely with laughter and suffused with light, O Lord, in such a time appoint my going, When the hands clench, and the cold face grows white, And the spark dies within the feeble brain, Spilling its star-dust back to dust again.


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.
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.
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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 | |

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 .
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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.
"Doubloons!"


Written by Stephen Vincent Benet | |

Rain After a Vaudeville Show

 The last pose flickered, failed.
The screen's dead white Glared in a sudden flooding of harsh light Stabbing the eyes; and as I stumbled out The curtain rose.
A fat girl with a pout And legs like hams, began to sing "His Mother".
Gusts of bad air rose in a choking smother; Smoke, the wet steam of clothes, the stench of plush, Powder, cheap perfume, mingled in a rush.
I stepped into the lobby -- and stood still Struck dumb by sudden beauty, body and will.
Cleanness and rapture -- excellence made plain -- The storming, thrashing arrows of the rain! Pouring and dripping on the roofs and rods, Smelling of woods and hills and fresh-turned sods, Black on the sidewalks, gray in the far sky, Crashing on thirsty panes, on gutters dry, Hurrying the crowd to shelter, making fair The streets, the houses, and the heat-soaked air, -- Merciful, holy, charging, sweeping, flashing, It smote the soul with a most iron clashing! .
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.
Like dragons' eyes the street-lamps suddenly gleamed, Yellow and round and dim-low globes of flame.
And, scarce-perceived, the clouds' tall banners streamed.
Out of the petty wars, the daily shame, Beauty strove suddenly, and rose, and flowered.
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I gripped my coat and plunged where awnings lowered.
Made one with hissing blackness, caught, embraced, By splendor and by striving and swift haste -- Spring coming in with thunderings and strife -- I stamped the ground in the strong joy of life!


Written by Stephen Vincent Benet | |

Road and Hills

 I shall go away 
To the brown hills, the quiet ones, 
The vast, the mountainous, the rolling, 
Sun-fired and drowsy! 

My horse snuffs delicately 
At the strange wind; 
He settles to a swinging trot; his hoofs tramp the dust.
The road winds, straightens, Slashes a marsh, Shoulders out a bridge, Then -- Again the hills.
Unchanged, innumerable, Bowing huge, round backs; Holding secret, immense converse: In gusty voices, Fruitful, fecund, toiling Like yoked black oxen.
The clouds pass like great, slow thoughts And vanish In the intense blue.
My horse lopes; the saddle creaks and sways.
A thousand glittering spears of sun slant from on high.
The immensity, the spaces, Are like the spaces Between star and star.
The hills sleep.
If I put my hand on one, I would feel the vast heave of its breath.
I would start away before it awakened And shook the world from its shoulders.
A cicada's cry deepens the hot silence.
The hills open To show a slope of poppies, Ardent, noble, heroic, A flare, a great flame of orange; Giving sleepy, brittle scent That stings the lungs.
A creeping wind slips through them like a ferret; they bow and dance, answering Beauty's voice .
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The horse whinnies.
I dismount And tie him to the grey worn fence.
I set myself against the javelins of grass and sun; And climb the rounded breast, That flows like a sea-wave.
The summit crackles with heat, there is no shelter, no hollow from the flagellating glare.
I lie down and look at the sky, shading my eyes.
My body becomes strange, the sun takes it and changes it, it does not feel, it is like the body of another.
The air blazes.
The air is diamond.
Small noises move among the grass .
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Blackly, A hawk mounts, mounts in the inane Seeking the star-road, Seeking the end .
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.
But there is no end.
Here, in this light, there is no end.
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.


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.
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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.
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One snaky word, "What if you'd done it?" And I began to think .
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Ah, well, What matter how I slipped and fell? Or you, you gutter-searcher say! Tell where you found me yesterday!