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Young Adventure

By Benét, Stephen Vincent

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Book Id: WPLBN0000706888
Format Type: PDF eBook
File Size: 147,808 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: Prefatory Note. // This poem received the nineteenth award of the prize offered by Professor Albert Stanburrough Cook to Yale // University for the best unpublished verse, the Committee of Award consisting of Professors C. F. Tucker Brooke, of // Yale University, Robert Frost, of Amherst College, and Charles M. Gayley, of the University of California. // Oh yes, I went over to Edmonstoun the other day and saw Johnny, mooning around as usual! // He will never make his way. // Letter of George Keats, 18- // NIGHT falls; the great jars glow against the dark, // Dark green, dusk red, and, like a coiling snake, // Writhing eternally in smoky gyres, // Great ropes of gorgeous vapor twist and turn // Within them. So the Eastern fisherman // Saw the swart genie rise when the lead seal, // Scribbled with charms, was lifted from the jar; // And - well, how went the tale? Like this, like this?... // No herbage broke the barren flats of land, // No winds dared loiter within smiling trees, // Nor were there any brooks on either hand, // Only the dry, bright sand, // Naked and golden, lay before the seas. // One boat toiled noiselessly along the deep, // The thirsty ripples dying silently // Upon its track. Far out the brown nets sweep, // And night begins to creep // Across the intolerable mirror of the sea. // Twice the nets rise, a-trail with sea-plants brown, // Distorted shells, and rocks green-mossed with slime, // Nought else. The fisher, sick at heart, kneels down; // Prayer may appease God's frown, // He thinks, then, kneeling, casts for the third time. // And lo! an earthen jar, bound round with brass, // Lies tangled in the cordage of his net. // About the bright waves gleam like shattered glass, // And where the sea's rim was // The sun dips, flat and red, about to set. // The prow grates on the beach. The fisherman // Stoops, tearing at the cords that bind the seal. // Shall pearls roll out, lustrous and white and wan? // Lapis? carnelian? // Unheard-of stones that make the sick mind reel // With wonder of their beauty? Rubies, then? // Green emeralds, glittering like the eyes of beasts? // Poisonous opals, good to madden men? // Gold bezants, ten and ten? // Hard, regal diamonds, like kingly feasts? // He tugged; the seal gave way. A little smoke // Curled like a feather in the darkening sky. // A blinding gush of fire burst, flamed, and broke. // A voice like a wind spoke. // Armored with light, and turbaned terribly, // A genie tramped the round earth underfoot; // His head sought out the stars, his cupped right hand // Made half the sky one darkness. He was mute. // The sun, a ripened fruit, // Drooped lower. Scarlet eddied o'er the sand. // The genie spoke: O miserable one! // Thy prize awaits thee; come, and hug it close! // A noble crown thy draggled nets have won // For this that thou hast done. // Blessed are fools! A gift remains for those! // His hand sought out his sword, and lightnings flared // Across the sky in one great bloom of fire. // Poised like a toppling mountain, it hung bared; // Suns that were jewels glared // Along its hilt. The air burnt like a pyre. // Once more the genie spoke: Something I owe // To thee, thou fool, thou fool. Come, canst thou sing? // Yea? Sing then; if thy song be brave, then go // Free and released - or no! // Find first some task, some overmastering thing // I cannot do, and find it speedily, // For if thou dost not thou shalt surely die! // The sword whirled back. The fisherman uprose, // And if at first his voice was weak with fear // And his limbs trembled, it was but a doze, // And at the high song's close // He stood up straight. His voice rang loud and clear. // The Song. // Last night the quays were lighted; // Cressets of smoking pine // Glared o'er the roaring mariners // That drink the yellow wine. // Their song rolled to the rafters, // 2 // It struck the high stars pale, // Such worth was in their discourse, // Such wonder in their tale. // Blue borage filled the clinking cups, // The murky night grew wan, // Till one rose, crowned with laurel-leaves, // That was an outland man. // Come, let us drink to war! said he, // The torch of the sacked town! // The swan's-bath and the wolf-ships, // And Harald of renown! // Yea, while the milk was on his lips, // Before the day was born, // He took the Almayne Kaiser's head // To be his drinking-horn! // Yea, while the down was on his chin, // Or yet his beard was grown, // He broke the gates of Micklegarth, // And stole the lion-throne! // Drink to Harald, king of the world, // Lord of the tongue and the troth! // To the bellowing horns of Ostfriesland, // And the trumpets of the Goth! // Their shouts rolled to the rafters, // The drink-horns crashed and rang, // And all their talk was a clangor of war, // As swords together sang! // But dimly, through the deep night, // Where stars like flowers shone, // A passionate shape came gliding - // I saw one thing alone. // I only saw my young love // Shining against the dark, // The whiteness of her raiment, // The head that bent to hark. // I only saw my young love, // Like flowers in the sun - // Her hands like waxen petals, // Where yawning poppies run. // I only felt there, chrysmal, // Against my cheek her breath, // Though all the winds were baying, // And the sky bright with Death. // Red sparks whirled up the chimney, // A hungry flaught of flame, // And a lean man from Greece arose; // Thrasyllos was his name. // I praise all noble wines! he cried, // Green robes of tissue fine, // Peacocks and apes and ivory, // 3 // And Homer's sea-loud line, // Statues and rings and carven gems, // And the wise crawling sea; // But most of all the crowns of kings, // The rule they wield thereby! // Power, fired power, blank and bright! // A fit hilt for the hand! // The one good sword for a freeman, // While yet the cold stars stand! // Their shouts rolled to the rafters, // The air was thick with wine. // I only knew her deep eyes, // And felt her hand in mine. // Softly as quiet water, // One finger touched my cheek; // Her face like gracious moonlight - // I might not move nor speak. // I only saw that beauty, // I only felt that form // There, in the silken darkness - // God wot my heart was warm! // Their shouts rolled to the rafters, // Another chief began; // His slit lips showed him for a Hun; // He was an evil man. // Sing to the joys of women! he yelled, // The hot delicious tents, // The soft couch, and the white limbs; // The air a steam of scents! // His eyes gleamed, and he wet his lips, // The rafters shook with cheers, // As he sang of woman, who is man's slave // For all unhonored years. // Whether the wanton laughs amain, // With one white shoulder bare, // Or in a sacked room you unbind // Some crouching maiden's hair; // This is the only good for man, // Like spices of the South - // To see the glimmering body laid // As pasture to his mouth! // To leave no lees within the cup, // To see and take and rend; // To lap a girl's limbs up like wine, // And laugh, knowing the end! // Only, like low, still breathing, // I heard one voice, one word; // And hot speech poured upon my lips, // As my hands held a sword. // Fools, thrice fools of lust! I cried, // 4 // Your eyes are blind to see // Eternal beauty, moving far, // More glorious than horns of war! // But though my eyes were one blind scar, // That sight is shown to me! // You nuzzle at the ivory side, // You clasp the golden head; // Fools, fools, who chatter and sing, // You have taken the sign of a terrible thing, // You have drunk down God with your beeswing, // And broken the saints for bread! // For God moves darkly, // In silence and in storm; // But in the body of woman // He shows one burning form. // For God moves blindly, // In darkness and in dread; // But in the body of woman // He raises up the dead. // Gracile and straight as birches, // Swift as the questing birds, // They fill true-lovers' drink-horns up, // Who speak not, having no words. // Love is not delicate toying, // A slim and shimmering mesh; // It is two souls wrenched into one, // Two bodies made one flesh. // Lust is a sprightly servant, // Gallant where wines are poured; // Love is a bitter master, // Love is an iron lord. // Satin ease of the body, // Fattened sloth of the hands, // These and their like he will not send, // Only immortal fires to rend - // And the world's end is your journey's end, // And your stream chokes in the sands. // Pleached calms shall not await you, // Peace you shall never find; // Nought but the living moorland // Scourged naked by the wind. // Nought but the living moorland, // And your love's hand in yours; // The strength more sure than surety, // The mercy that endures. // Then, though they give you to be burned, // And slay you like a stoat, // You have found the world's heart in the turn of a cheek, // Heaven in the lift of a throat. // Although they break you on the wheel, // 5 // That stood so straight in the sun, // Behind you the trumpets split the sky, // Where the lost and furious fight goes by - // And God, our God, will have victory // When the red day is done! // Their mirth rolled to the rafters, // They bellowed lechery; // Light as a drifting feather // My love slipped from my knee. // Within, the lights were yellow // In drowsy rooms and warm; // Without, the stabbing lightning // Shattered across the storm. // Within, the great logs crackled, // The drink-horns emptied soon; // Without, the black cloaks of the clouds // Strangled the waning moon. // My love crossed o'er the threshold - // God! but the night was murk! // I set myself against the cold, // And left them to their work. // Their shouts rolled to the rafters; // A bitterer way was mine, // And I left them in the tavern, // Drinking the yellow wine! // The last faint echoes rang along the plains, // Died, and were gone. The genie spoke: Thy song // Serves well enough - but yet thy task remains; // Many and rending pains // Shall torture him who dares delay too long! // His brown face hardened to a leaden mask. // A bitter brine crusted the fisher's cheek - // Almighty God, one thing alone I ask, // Show me a task, a task! // The hard cup of the sky shone, gemmed and bleak. // O love, whom I have sought by devious ways; // O hidden beauty, naked as a star; // You whose bright hair has burned across my days, // Making them lamps of praise; // O dawn-wind, breathing of Arabia! // You have I served. Now fire has parched the vine, // And Death is on the singers and the song. // No longer are there lips to cling to mine, // And the heart wearies of wine, // And I am sick, for my desire is long. // O love, soft-moving, delicate and tender! // In her gold house the pipe calls querulously, // They cloud with thin green silks her body slender, // They talk to her and tend her; // Come, piteous, gentle love, and set me free! // 6 // He ceased - and, slowly rising o'er the deep, // A faint song chimed, grew clearer, till at last // A golden horn of light began to creep // Where the dumb ripples sweep, // Making the sea one splendor where it passed. // A golden boat! The bright oars rested soon, // And the prow met the sand. The purple veils // Misting the cabin fell. Fair as the moon // When the morning comes too soon, // And all the air is silver in the dales, // A gold-robed princess stepped upon the beach. // The fisher knelt and kissed her garment's hem, // And then her lips, and strove at last for speech. // The waters lapped the reach. // Here thy strength breaks, thy might is nought to stem! // He cried at last. Speech shook him like a flame: // Yea, though thou plucked the stars from out the sky, // Each lovely one would be a withered shame - // Each thou couldst find or name - // To this fire-hearted beauty! Wearily // The genie heard. A slow smile came like dawn // Over his face. Thy task is done! he said. // A whirlwind roared, smoke shattered, he was gone; // And, like a sudden horn, // The moon shone clear, no longer smoked and red. // They passed into the boat. The gold oars beat // Loudly, then fainter, fainter, till at last // Only the quiet waters barely moved // Along the whispering sand - till all the vast // Expanse of sea began to shake with heat, // And morning brought soft airs, by sailors loved. // And after?... Well... // The shop-bell clangs! Who comes? // Quinine - I pour the little bitter grains // Out upon blue, glazed squares of paper. So. // And all the dusk I shall sit here alone, // With many powers in my hands - ah, see // How the blurred labels run on the old jars! // Opium - and a cruel and sleepy scent, // The harsh taste of white poppies; India - // The writhing woods a-crawl with monstrous life, // Save where the deodars are set like spears, // And a calm pool is mirrored ebony; // Opium - brown and warm and slender-breasted // She rises, shaking off the cool black water, // And twisting up her hair, that ripples down, // A torrent of black water, to her feet; // How the drops sparkle in the moonlight! Once // I made a rhyme about it, singing softly: // Over Damascus every star // 7 // Keeps his unchanging course and cold, // The dark weighs like an iron bar, // The intense and pallid night is old, // Dim the moon's scimitar. // Still the lamps blaze within those halls, // Where poppies heap the marble vats // For girls to tread; the thick air palls; // And shadows hang like evil bats // About the scented walls. // The girls are many, and they sing; // Their white feet fall like flakes of snow, // Making a ceaseless murmuring - // Whispers of love, dead long ago, // And dear, forgotten Spring. // One alone sings not. Tiredly // She sees the white blooms crushed, and smells // The heavy scent. They chatter: See! // White Zira thinks of nothing else // But the morn's jollity - // Then Haroun takes her! But she dreams, // Unhearing, of a certain field // Of poppies, cut by many streams, // Like lines across a round Turk shield, // Where now the hot sun gleams. // The field whereon they walked that day, // And splendor filled her body up, // And his; and then the trampled clay, // And slow smoke climbing the sky's cup // From where the village lay. // And after - much ache of the wrists, // Where the cords irked her - till she came, // The price of many amethysts, // Hither. And now the ultimate shame // Blew trumpet in the lists. // And so she trod the poppies there, // Remembering other poppies, too, // And did not seem to see or care. // Without, the first gray drops of dew // Sweetened the trembling air. // She trod the poppies. Hours passed // Until she slept at length - and Time // Dragged his slow sickle. When at last // She woke, the moon shone, bright as rime, // And night's tide rolled on fast. // She moaned once, knowing everything; // Then, bitterer than death, she found // The soft handmaidens, in a ring, // Come to anoint her, all around, // That she might please the king. // Opium - and the odor dies away, // 8 // Leaving the air yet heavy - cassia - myrrh - // Bitter and splendid. See, the poisons come, // Trooping in squat green vials, blazoned red // With grinning skulls: strychnine, a pallid dust // Of tiny grains, like bones ground fine; and next // The muddy green of arsenic, all livid, // Likest the face of one long dead - they creep // Along the dusty shelf like deadly beetles, // Whose fangs are carved with runnels, that the blood // May run down easily to the blind mouth // That snaps and gapes; and high above them there, // My master's pride, a cobwebbed, yellow pot // Of honey from Mount Hybla. Do the bees // Still moan among the low sweet purple clover, // Endlessly many? Still in deep-hushed woods, // When the incredible silver of the moon // Comes like a living wind through sleep-bowed branches, // Still steal dark shapes from the enchanted glens, // Which yet are purple with high dreams, and still // Fronting that quiet and eternal shield // Which is much more than Peace, does there still stand // One sharp black shadow - and the short, smooth horns // Are clear against that disk? // O great Diana! // I, I have praised thee, yet I do not know // What moves my mind so strangely, save that once // I lay all night upon a thymy hill, // And watched the slow clouds pass like heaped-up foam // Across blue marble, till at last no speck // Blotted the clear expanse, and the full moon // Rose in much light, and all night long I saw // Her ordered progress, till, in midmost heaven, // There came a terrible silence, and the mice // Crept to their holes, the crickets did not chirp, // All the small night-sounds stopped - and clear pure light // Rippled like silk over the universe, // Most cold and bleak; and yet my heart beat fast, // Waiting until the stillness broke. I know not // For what I waited - something very great - // I dared not look up to the sky for fear // A brittle crackling should clash suddenly // Against the quiet, and a black line creep // Across the sky, and widen like a mouth, // Until the broken heavens streamed apart, // Like torn lost banners, and the immortal fires, // Roaring like lions, asked their meat from God. // I lay there, a black blot upon a shield // Of quivering, watery whiteness. The hush held // Until I staggered up and cried aloud, // And then it seemed that something far too great // 9 // For knowledge, and illimitable as God, // Rent the dark sky like lightning, and I fell, // And, falling, heard a wild and rushing wind // Of music, and saw lights that blinded me // With white, impenetrable swords, and felt // A pressure of soft hands upon my lips, // Upon my eyelids - and since then I cough // At times, and have strange thoughts about the stars, // That some day - some day - // Come, I must be quick! // My master will be back soon. Let me light // Thin blue Arabian pastilles, and sit // Like a dead god incensed by chanting priests, // And watch the pungent smoke wreathe up and up, // Until he comes - though he may rage because // They cost good money. Then I shall walk home // Over the moor. Already the moon climbs // Above the world's edge. By the time he comes // She will be fully risen. - There's his step!


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