Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Stephen Vincent Benét

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

"Honesty rare as a man without self-pity, kinders as large and plain as a prairie wind."

"Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways."

"We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong. We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom."

"It's time to walk to the cider mill Through air like apple wine, And watch the moon rise over the hill, stinging and hard and fine. It's time to bury your seed pods deep And let them wait and be warm. It's time to sleep the heavy sleep That does not wake for the storm."

"We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong. We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom. We thought the long train would run to the end of Time. We thought the light would increase. Now the long train stands derailed and the bandits loot it. Now the boar and the asp have power in our time. Now the night rolls back on the West and the night is solid. Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon's teeth. Our children know and suffer the armed men."

"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."

"It is not given me to trace The lovely laughter of that face, Like a clear brook most full of light, Or olives swaying on a height, So silver they have wings, almost; Like a great word once known and lost And meaning all things."

"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."

"It is better the truth should come little by little. I have learned that, being a priest. Perhaps, in the old days, they ate knowledge too fast."

"God pity us indeed, for we are human, And do not always see The vision when it comes, the shining change, Or, if we see it, do not follow it, Because it is too hard, too strange, too new, Too unbelievable, too difficult, Warring too much with common, easy ways."

"[Abraham Lincoln's] weathered face was homely as a plowed field."

"A soul. A soul is nothing. Can you see it, smell it, touch it? No."

"American muse, whose strong and diverse heart So many men have tried to understand But only made it smaller with their art, Because you are as various as your land."

"As for what you're calling hard luck - well, we made New England out of it. That and codfish."

"Books are not men and yet they are alive."

"But not the first Illusion, the new earth, the march upon the solitary fire, the casting of the dice of death and birth against a giant, for a blind desire, the stream uncrossed, the promise still untried, the metal sleeping in the mountainside."

"Defeat is a fact and victory can be a fact. If the idea is good, it will survive defeat, it may even survive the victory."

"Dreaming men are haunted men"

"Even in hell, if a man was a man, you'd know it."

"Grant us a common faith that man shall know bread and peacethat he shall know justice and righteousness, freedom and security, an equal opportunity and an equal chance to do his best not only in our own lands, but throughout the world. And in that faith let us march toward the clean world our hands can make."

"Grant us brotherhood, not only for this day but for all our years -- a brotherhood not of words but of acts and deeds."

"He could fiddle all the bugs off a sweet-potato vine."

"I had lost something in youth and made money instead."

"I have fallen in love with American names, the sharp, gaunt names that never get fat."

"I tried to think of my knowledge, but it was a squirrel's heap of winter nuts. There was no strength in my knowledge anymore and I felt small and naked as a new-hatched bird."

"I'm waiting.... For something new and strange, something I've dreamt about in some deep sleep, truer than any waking."

"It’ a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire. Yes, Daniel Webster’s dead or, at least, they buried him. But every time there’s a thunderstorm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, Daniel Webster, Daniel Webster! the ground’ll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you’ll hear a deep voice saying, Neighbor, how stands the Union? Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible, or he’s liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that’s what I was told when I was a youngster."

"I've been reading a lot lately about Indian captives. One woman who had been captured by the Indians and made a squaw was resentful when she was rescued because she'd found that there was a lot more work to do as the wife of a white man."

"Life was a storm to wander through."

"Money is sullen And wisdom is sly, But youth is the pollen That blows through the sky And does not ask why."

"One cannot balance tragedy in the scales Unless one weighs it with the tragic heart."

"Our earth is but a small star in a great universe. Yet of it we can make, if we choose, a planet unvexed by war, untroubled by hunger or fear, undivided by senseless distinctions of race, color or theory."

"Some men wish evil and accomplish it But most men, when they work in that machine, Just let it happen somewhere in the wheels. The fault is no decisive, villainous knife But the dull saw that is the routine mind."

"We do not fight for the real but for shadows we make A flag is a piece of cloth and a word is a sound, But we make them something neither cloth nor a sound Tokens of love and hate, black sorcery stones."

"We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom."

"Youth is the pollen that blows through the sky and does not ask why."

"A man with a mouth like a mastiff, a brow like a mountain and eyes like burning anthracite ? that was Dan'l Webster in his prime. And the biggest case he argued never got written down in the books, for he argued it against the devil, nip and tuck and no holds barred. And this is the way I used to hear it told."

"And, settling well his harp upon his back, with something of amusement in his mouth, Tristram rode southward to the Breton ships."

"Eternally the choking steam goes up from the black pools of seething oil..."

"Finally, it was time for him to get up on his feet, and he did so, all ready to bust out with lightning and denunciations. But before he started he looked over the judge and jury for a moment, such being his custom. And he noticed the glitter in their eyes was twice as strong as before, and they all leaned forward. Like hounds just before they get the fox, they thickened as he watched them. Then he saw what he'd been about to do, and he wiped his forehead, as a man might who's just escaped falling into a pit in the dark. For it was him they'd come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he'd fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn't have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he'd have to wipe that out or the case was lost. He stood there for a moment, his black eyes burning like anthracite. And then he began to speak."

"For all those beaten, for the broken heads, the fosterless, the simple, the oppressed, the ghosts in the burning city of our time?"

"For ever... well... it droops the mouth. Till I look up. There's one blue patch no smoke dares touch. Sky, clear, ineffable, alive with light, always the same... Before, I never knew rest and green peace."

"And he began with the simple things that everybody's known and felt ? the freshness of a fine morning when you're young, and the taste of food when you're hungry, and the new day that's every day when you're a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn't a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors."

"For the cold of the pistol-butt and the bullet's heat, for the ropes that choke, the manacles that bind, the huge voice, metal, that lies from a thousand tubes and the stuttering machine-gun that answers all."

"For the man crucified on the crossed machine guns without name, without ressurection, without stars, his dark head heavy with death and his flesh long sour with the smell of his many prisons ? John Smith, John Doe, John Nobody ? oh, crack your mind for his name! Faceless as water, naked as the dust, dishonored as the earth the gas-shells poison and barbarous with portent. This is he. This is the man they ate at the green table putting their gloves on ere they touched the meat. This is the fruit of war, the fruit of peace, the ripeness of invention, the new lamb, the answer to the wisdom of the wise. And still he hangs, and still he will not die and still, on the steel city of our years the light falls and the terrible blood streams down."

"For the women who mourn their dead in the secret night, for the children taught to keep quiet, the old children, the children spat-on at school. For the wrecked laboratory, the gutted house, the dunged picture, the pissed-in well the naked corpse of Knowledge flung in the square and no man lifting a hand and no man speaking."

"For those denounced by their smug, horrible children for a peppermint-star and the praise of the Perfect State, for all those strangled, gelded or merely starved to make perfect states; for the priest hanged in his cassock, the Jew with his chest crushed in and his eyes dying, the revolutionist lynched by the private guards to make perfect states, in the names of the perfect states."

"For those slain at once. For those living through the months and years enduring, watching, hoping, going each day to the work or the queue for meat or the secret club, living meanwhile, begetting children, smuggling guns, and found and killed at the end like rats in a drain."

"For those who planned and were leaders and were beaten and for those, humble and stupid, who had no plan but were denounced, but were angry, but told a joke, but could not explain, but were sent away to the camp, but had their bodies shipped back in the sealed coffins, "Died of pneumonia." "Died trying to escape.""

"For those who still said "Red Front" or "God save the Crown!" And for those who were not courageous but were beaten nevertheless. For those who spit out the bloody stumps of their teeth quietly in the hall, sleep well on stone or iron, watch for the time and kill the guard in the privy before they die, those with the deep-socketed eyes and the lamp burning."