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Young Adventure

By Benét, Stephen Vincent

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Book Id: WPLBN0000706887
Format Type: PDF eBook
File Size: 150,169 KB.
Reproduction Date: 2007
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Title: Young Adventure  
Author: Benét, Stephen Vincent
Language: English
Subject: Fiction, Poetry, Verse drama
Collections: Poetry Collection
Publication Date:
Publisher: World Public Library Association


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Benet, S. V. (n.d.). Young Adventure. Retrieved from


Excerpt: A Minor Poet // I am a shell. From me you shall not hear // The splendid tramplings of insistent drums, // The orbed gold of the viol's voice that comes, // Heavy with radiance, languorous and clear. // Yet, if you hold me close against the ear, // A dim, far whisper rises clamorously, // The thunderous beat and passion of the sea, // The slow surge of the tides that drown the mere. // Others with subtle hands may pluck the strings, // Making even Love in music audible, // And earth one glory. I am but a shell // That moves, not of itself, and moving sings; // Leaving a fragrance, faint as wine new-shed, // A tremulous murmur from great days long dead. // The Lover in Hell // Eternally the choking steam goes up // From the black pools of seething oil.... // How merry // Those little devils are! They've stolen the pitchfork // From Bel, there, as he slept... Look! - oh look, look! // They've got at Nero! Oh it isn't fair! // Lord, how he squeals! Stop it... it's, well - indecent! // But funny!... See, Bel's waked. They'll catch it now! // ...Eternally that stifling reek arises, // Blotting the dome with smoky, terrible towers, // Black, strangling trees, whispering obscene things // Amongst their branches, clutching with maimed hands, // Or oozing slowly, like blind tentacles // Up to the gates; higher than that heaped brick // Man piled to smite the sun. And all around // Are devils. One can laugh... but that hunched shape // The face one stone, like those Assyrian kings! // One sees in carvings, watching men flayed red // Horribly laughable in leaps and writhes; // That face - utterly evil, clouded round // With evil like a smoke - it turns smiles sour! // ...And Nero there, the flabby cheeks astrain // And sweating agony... long agony... // Imperishable, unappeasable // 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. // She stands there in the sun. // ...It seems so quaint she should have long gold wings. // I never have got used - folded across // Her breast, or fluttering with fierce, pure light, // Like shaken steel. Her crown too. Well, it's queer! // And then she never cared much for the harp // On earth. Here, though... // 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. // They said she was unfaithful once. // Or I remembered it - and so, for that, // I lie here, I suppose. Yes, so they said. // You see she is so troubled, looking down, // Sorrowing deeply for my torments. I // Of course, feel nothing while I see her - save // That sometimes when I think the matter out, // And what earth-people said of us, of her, // It seems as if I must be, here, in heaven, // And she - // ...Then I grow proud; and suddenly // There comes a splatter of oil against my skin, // Hurting this time. And I forget my pride: // And my face writhes. // Some day the little ladder // Of white words that I build up, up, to her // May fetch me out. Meanwhile it isn't bad.... // But what a sense of humor God must have! // Winged Man // 2 // 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! // 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, // 3 // 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. // 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! // 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, // 4 // 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! // The Fiddling Wood // Gods, what a black, fierce day! The clouds were iron, // Wrenched to strange, rugged shapes; the red sun winked // Over the rough crest of the hairy wood // In angry scorn; the grey road twisted, kinked, // Like a sick serpent, seeming to environ // The trees with magic. All the wood was still - // Cracked, crannied pines bent like malicious cripples // Before the gusty wind; they seemed to nose, // Nudge, poke each other, cackling with ill mirth - // Enchantment's days were over - sh! - Suppose // That crouching log there, where the white light stipples // Should - break its quiet! WAS THAT CRIMSON - EARTH? // It smirched the ground like a lewd whisper, Danger! - // I hunched my cloak about me - then, appalled, // Turned ice and fire by turns - for - someone stirred // The brown, dry needles sharply! Terror crawled // Along my spine, as forth there stepped - a Stranger! // And all the pines crooned like a drowsy bird! // His stock was black. His great shoe-buckles glistened. // His fur cuffs ended in a sheen of rings. // And underneath his coat a case bulged blackly - // He swept his beaver in a rush of wings! // Then took the fiddle out, and, as I listened, // Tightened and tuned the yellowed strings, hung slackly. // Ping! Pang! The clear notes swooped and curved and darted, // Rising like gulls. Then, with a finger skinny, // He rubbed the bow with rosin, said, Your pardon // Signor! - Maestro Nicolo Paganini // They used to call me! Tchk! - The cold grips hard on // A poor musician's fingers! - His lips parted. // A tortured soul screamed suddenly and loud, // From the brown, quivering case! Then, faster, faster, // Dancing in flame-like whorls, wild, beating, screaming, // The music wailed unutterable disaster; // Heartbroken murmurs from pale lips once proud, // Dead, choking moans from hearts once nobly dreaming. // Till all resolved in anguish - died away // 5 // Upon one minor chord, and was resumed // In anguish; fell again to a low cry, // Then rose triumphant where the white fires fumed, // Terrible, marching, trampling, reeling, gay, // Hurling mad, broken legions down to die // Through everlasting hells - The tears were salt // Upon my fingers - Then, I saw, behind // The fury of the player, all the trees // Crouched like violinists, boughs crooked, jerking, blind, // Sweeping mad bows to music without fault, // Grey cheeks to greyer fiddles, withered knees. // Gasping, I fled! - but still that devilish tune // Stunned ears and brain alike - till clouds of dust // Blotted the picture, and the noise grew dim - // Shaking, I reached the town - and turned - in trust - // Wind-smitten, dread, against the sky-line's rim, // Black, dragon branches whipped below a moon! // 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! // 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, // 6 // 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! // 7 // The General Public // Ah, did you once see Shelley plain? - Browning. // Shelley? Oh, yes, I saw him often then, // The old man said. A dry smile creased his face // With many wrinkles. That's a great poem, now! // That one of Browning's! Shelley? Shelley plain? // The time that I remember best is this - // A thin mire crept along the rutted ways, // And all the trees were harried by cold rain // That drove a moment fiercely and then ceased, // Falling so slow it hung like a grey mist // Over the school. The walks were like blurred glass. // The buildings reeked with vapor, black and harsh // Against the deepening darkness of the sky; // And each lamp was a hazy yellow moon, // Filling the space about with golden motes, // And making all things larger than they were. // One yellow halo hung above a door, // That gave on a black passage. Round about // Struggled a howling crowd of boys, pell-mell, // Pushing and jostling like a stormy sea, // With shouting faces, turned a pasty white // By the strange light, for foam. They all had clods, // Or slimy balls of mud. A few gripped stones. // And there, his back against the battered door, // His pile of books scattered about his feet, // Stood Shelley while two others held him fast, // And the clods beat upon him. `Shelley! Shelley!' // The high shouts rang through all the corridors, // `Shelley! Mad Shelley! Come along and help!' // And all the crowd dug madly at the earth, // Scratching and clawing at the streaming mud, // And fouled each other and themselves. And still // Shelley stood up. His eyes were like a flame // Set in some white, still room; for all his face // Was white, a whiteness like no human color, // But white and dreadful as consuming fire. // His hands shook now and then, like slender cords // Which bear too heavy weights. He did not speak. // So I saw Shelley plain. // And you? I said. // I? I threw straighter than the most of them, // And had firm clods. I hit him - well, at least // Thrice in the face. He made good sport that night. // Road and Hills // I shall go away // To the brown hills, the quiet ones, // The vast, the mountainous, the rolling, // 8 // 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... // 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... // Blackly, // 9 // A hawk mounts, mounts in the inane // Seeking the star-road, // Seeking the end... // But there is no end. // Here, in this light, there is no end.... // Elegy for an Enemy // (For G. H.) // 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, // 10 // 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!


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