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  Young Adventure
        by Stephen Vincent Benet
        A Book of Poems
        To W. R. B.
        And so, to you, who always were
        Perseus, D'Artagnan, Lancelot
        To me, I give these weedy rhymes
        In memory of earlier times.
        Now all those careless days are not.
        Of all my heroes, you endure.
        Words are such silly things! too rough,
        Too smooth, they boil up or congeal,
        And neither of us likes emotion --
        But I can't measure my devotion!
        And you know how I really feel --
        And we're together.  There, enough, . . . !
        Foreword by Chauncey Brewster Tinker
        In these days when the old civilisation is crumbling beneath our feet,
        the thought of poetry crosses the mind like the dear memory of things
        that have long since passed away.  In our passionate desire for the new era,
        it is difficult to refrain oneself from the commonplace practice
        of speculating on the effects of warfare and of prophesying all manner
        of novel rebirths.  But it may be well for us to remember that the era
        which has recently closed was itself marked by a mad idealisation
        of all novelties.  In the literary movements of the last decade --
        when, indeed, any movement at all has been perceptible -- we have witnessed
        a bewildering rise and fall of methods and ideals.  We were captivated
        for a time by the quest of the golden phrase and the accompanying cultivation
        of exotic emotions; and then, wearying of the pretty and the temperamental,
        we plunged into the bloodshot brutalities of naturalism.
        From the smooth-flowing imitations of Tennyson and Swinburne,
        we passed into a false freedom that had at its heart a repudiation
        of all law and standards, for a parallel to which one turns instinctively
        to certain recent developments in the political world.  We may hope
        that the eager search for novelty of form and subject may have its influence
        in releasing us from our old bondage to the commonplace and in broadening
        the scope of poetry; but we cannot blind ourselves to the fact
        that it has at the same time completed that estrangement
        between the poet and the general public which has been developing
        for half a century.  The great mass of the reading world,
        to whom the arts should minister, have now forgotten that poetry
        is a consolation in times of doubt and peril, a beacon,
        and "an ever-fixed mark" in a crazed and shifting world.  Our poetry --
        and I am speaking in particular of American poetry -- has been centrifugal;
        our poets have broken up into smaller and ever smaller groups.
        Individualism has triumphed.
        To the general confusion, critics, if they may be said to have
        existed at all, have added by their paltry conception of the art.
        They have deemed it a sufficient denunciation of a poet to accuse him
        of imitating his masters; as though the history of an art were rather
        a series of violent rebellions than a growth and a progressive illumination.
        Not all generations are privileged to see the working of a great
        creative impulse, but the want, keen though it be, furnishes no reason
        for the utter rejection of
           A tremulous murmur from great days long dead.
        But this fear of echoing the past may work us a yet greater misfortune.
        In the rejection of the manner of an earlier epoch may be implicit also
        the rejection of the very sources from which springs the life
        of the fair art.  Melody, and a love of the green earth,
        and a yearning for God are of the very fabric of poetry, deny it who will.
        The Muses still reign on Parnassus, wax the heathen never so furious.
        Poets who love poetry better than their own fame in Grub Street
        will do well to remember
           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.
        It is a poor business to find in such words only the illusions of youth and
        a new enthusiasm.  The desire for novelty, the passion for force and dirt,
        and the hankering after freakishness of mood, which many have attempted
        to substitute for the older and simpler things, are themselves
        the best evidence of disillusion and jaded nerves.  There is a weariness
        and a disgust in our recent impatience with beauty which indicate too clearly
        the exhaustion of our spiritual resources.  It may well be that
        the rebirth of poetry is to be manifest in a reappearance of the obvious, --
        in a love of the sea and of the beauty of clouds, in the adventure of death
        and the yet more amazing adventure of living, in a vital love of colour,
        whether of the Orient or the drug-shop, in childlike love of melody,
        and the cool cleansing of rain, in strange faces and old memories.
        This, in the past, has been poetry, and this will be poetry again.
        The singer who, out of a full heart, can offer to the world his vision
        of its beauty, and out of a noble mind, his conception of its destiny,
        will bestow upon his time the most precious gift which we can now receive,
        the gift of his healing power.
                                                                 C. B. T.
        Foreword by Chauncey Brewster Tinker
        The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun
        Rain after a Vaudeville Show
        The City Revisited
        Going Back to School
        Nos Immortales
        Young Blood
        The Quality of Courage
        Campus Sonnets:
          1.  Before an Examination
          2.  Talk
          3.  May Morning
          4.  Return -- 1917
        Alexander VI Dines with the Cardinal of Capua
        The Breaking Point
        Lonely Burial
        Dinner in a Quick Lunch Room
        The Hemp
        Poor Devil!
        Ghosts of a Lunatic Asylum
        The White Peacock
        A Minor Poet
        The Lover in Hell
        Winged Man
        The Innovator
        Love in Twilight
        The Fiddling Wood
        Portrait of a Boy
        Portrait of a Baby
        The General Public
        Road and Hills
        Elegy for an Enemy
        The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun
        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.
        The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun
        "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,
          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,
          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,
          "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,
          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!"
        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
          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,
        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
        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!
        Rain af