Stephen Vincent Benét

Stephen Vincent

American Poet, Short-Story Writer and Novelist, known for book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body

Author Quotes

Outcasts of war, misfits, rebellious souls, seekers of some vague kingdom in the stars ? They hide out in the hills and stir up trouble, call themselves prophets, too, and prophesy that something new is coming to the world, the Lord knows what! Well, it's a long time coming, and, meanwhile, we're the wheat between the stones.

Perhaps 'tis not strictly in accordance with the evidence ? but even the damned may salute the eloquence of Mr. Webster.

She is all peace, all quiet, all passionate desires, the eloquent thunder of new, glad suns, shouting aloud for joy, over fresh worlds and clean, trampling the air like stooping hawks, to the long wind of horns, flung from the bastions of Eternity... And she is the low lake, drowsy and gentle, and good words spoken from the tongues of friends, and calmness in the evening, and deep thoughts, falling like dreams from the stars' solemn mouths. All these.

Honesty is as rare as a man without self-pity.

It should have been dark, for it was night, but it was not dark. Everywhere there were lights ? lines of light ? circles and blurs of light ? ten thousand torches would not have been the same. The sky itself was alight ? you could barely see the stars for the glow in the sky. I thought to myself "This is strong magic" and trembled. There was a roaring in my ears like the rushing of rivers. Then my eyes grew used to the light and my ears to the sound. I knew that I was seeing the city as it had been when the gods were alive.

How shall I tell what I saw? The towers are not all broken ? here and there one still stands, like a great tree in a forest, and the birds nest high. But the towers themselves look blind, for the gods are gone. I saw a fishhawk, catching fish in the river. I saw a little dance of white butterflies over a great heap of broken stones and columns. I went there and looked about me ? there was a carved stone with cut ? letters, broken in half. I can read letters but I could not understand these. They said UBTREAS. There was also the shattered image of a man or a god. It had been made of white stone and he wore his hair tied back like a woman's. His name was ASHING, as I read on the cracked half of a stone. I thought it wise to pray to ASHING, though I do not know that god.

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 counselings: 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!

I am not tired. I am expectant as a runner is before a race, a child before a feast day, a woman at the gates of life and death, expectant for us all, for all of us who live and suffer on this little earth with such small brotherhood. Something begins. Something is full of change and sparkling stars. Something is loosed that changes all the world.

Life is not lost by dying! Life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand, small, uncaring ways, the smooth appeasing compromises of time, which are King Herod and King Herod's men, always and always. Life can be lost without vision but not lost by death, lost by not caring, willing, going on beyond the ragged edge of fortitude to something more ? something no man has ever seen. You who love money, you who love yourself, you who love bitterness, and I who loved and lost and thought I could not love again, and all the people of this little town, rise up! The loves we had were not enough. Something is loosed to change the shaken world, and with it we must change!

I crawled. I could not speak or see save dimly. The ice glared like fire, a long bright Hell of choking cold, and each vein was a tautened wire, throbbing with torture ? and I crawled. My hands were wounds. So I attained the second Hell.

Life was a storm to wander through. I took the wrong way. Good and well, at least my feet sought out not Hell!

I have been in the Place of the Gods and seen it! Now slay me, if it is the law ? but still I know they were men.

My mind?s a map. A mad sea-captain drew it under a flowing moon until he knew it; winds with brass trumpets, puffy-cheeked as jugs, and states bright-patterned like Arabian rugs. "Here there by tygers." "Here we buried Jim." Here is the strait where eyeless fishes swim about their buried idol, drowned so cold he weeps away his eyes in salt and gold. A country like the dark side of the moon, a cider-apple country, harsh and boon, a country savage as a chestnut-rind, a land of hungry sorcerers. Your mind? --Your mind is water through an April night, a cherry-branch, plume feathery with its white, a lavender as fragrant as your words, a room where Peace and Honor talk like birds, sewing bright coins upon the tragic cloth of heavy Fate, and Mockery, like a moth, flutters and beats about those lovely things. You are the soul, enchanted with its wings, the single voice that raises up the dead to shake the pride of angels. I have said.

I knew then that they had been men, neither gods nor demons. It is a great knowledge, hard to tell and believe. They were men ? they went a dark road, but they were men.

My people are the Hill People. They are the men. I go into the Dead Places but I am not slain. I take the metal from the Dead Places but I am not blasted. I travel upon the god-roads and am not afraid.

I see that I've said something you don't like, something uncouth and bold and terrifying, and yet, I'll tell you this: It won't be till each one of us is willing, not you, not me, but every one of us, to hang upon a cross for every man who suffers, starves and dies, fight his sore battles as they were our own, and help him from the darkness and the mire, that there will be no crosses and no tyrants, no Herods and no slaves.

Never have I been so much alone ? I tried to think of my knowledge, but it was a squirrel's heap of winter nuts. There was no strength in my knowledge any more and I felt small and naked as a new-hatched bird ? alone upon the great river, the servant of the gods.

I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse. I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea. You may bury my body in Sussex grass, you may bury my tongue at Champm‚dy. I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

I stumbled, slipped... and all was gone that I had gained. Once more I lay before the long bright Hell of ice. And still the light was far away. There was red mist before my eyes or I could tell you how I went across the swaying firmament, a glittering torture of cold stars, and how I fought in Titan wars... and died... and lived again upon the rack... and how the horses strain when their red task is nearly done. . . I only know that there was Pain, infinite and eternal Pain. And that I fell ? and rose again.

I went fasting, as is the law. My body hurt but not my heart. When the dawn came, I was out of sight of the village. I prayed and purified myself, waiting for asign. The sign was an eagle. It flew east.

I went north ? I did not try to hide myself. When a god or a demon saw me, then I would die, but meanwhile I was no longer afraid. My hunger for knowledge burned in me ? there was so much that I could not understand.

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.

If the hunters think we do all things by chants and spells, they may believe so ? it does not hurt them. I was taught how to read in the old books and how to make the old writings ? that was hard and took a long time. Myknowledge made me happy ? it was like a fire in my heart. Most of all, I liked to hear of the Old Days and the storiesof the gods.

If two New Hampshiremen aren't a match for the devil, we might as well give the country back to the Indians.

I'm waiting. ? For something new and strange, something I've dreamt about in some deep sleep, truer than any waking, heard about, long ago, so long ago, in sunshine and the summer grass of childhood, when the sky seems so near. I do not know its shape, its will, its purpose and yet all day its will has been upon me, more real than any voice I ever heard, more real than yours or mine or our dead child's, more real than all the voices there upstairs, brawling above their cups, more real than light. And there is light in it and fire and peace, newness of heart and strangeness like a sword, and all my body trembles under it, and yet I do not know.

Author Picture
First Name
Stephen Vincent
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

American Poet, Short-Story Writer and Novelist, known for book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body