Friday, August 22, 2014

Provisional "Introduction" for Presentation at Literary Festival in late September

Stamp of Approval
Google Images

From September 25 through 27, I'll be at a conference on "Literature and National Community," and I'll be speaking on "The United States and the Case of Stephen Vincent Benét."

Here's my provisional "Introduction":
I am informed that my presentation on "Literature and National Community . . . . will be representing the English speaking countries." That's a lot of countries, and I can probably only manage to represent myself, but since I'm American, I'll pretend to represent the United States. But what am I to say? I suppose I can start with Benedict Anderson's famous view of a nation: "In an anthropological spirit, . . . I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign." Limited, because there are other nations. Sovereign, because not under the rule of another nation. Community, because of a "deep, horizontal comradeship." And imagined, because members do not know most of their fellow-members, yet have a mental image of their communion (Anderson, 6-7). Where does this mental image come from? Partly, at least sometimes, from literature. Which brings me to my subject: Stephen Vincent Benét.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso: 2006.
It's provisional because I'll be submitting it for approval late August . . .

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Terrance Lindall's Dinner With The Devil: September 19, 2014

Dinner With The Devil

My NY friend and famous illustrator of John Milton's Paradise Lost (as well as of the BBB), Terrance Lindall, is having a Dinner With The Devil this coming September 19, 2014 in honor of the electrifying artist Bien 'Bones' Banez, inspiration for the soon-to-be-famous Satanic Verses of Bones Banez!

My own minor poem, "Hell's Bells," might receive mention, but that doesn't matter. More important is the menu, edifying both inside and out!

Here's the cover, aka "Out":

Such meals might be subject to change . . . possibly transubstantiation? I'm merely guessing, based on my knowledge of the authors' whims about sub sandwiches.

But that sort of transformation only makes things better!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

David Garrett Izzo and Lincoln Konkle on Stephen Vincent Benét's Anti-Fascism

David Garrett Izzo and Lincoln Konkle, the editors of Stephen Vincent Benét: Essays on His Life and Work (McFarland, 2002), also contributed the book's final essay, "Benét as Dramatist for Stage, Screen, and Radio" (pages 215-232), which has this to say about Benét's opposition to fascism:
During the late 1930s Benét, just as many other Americans, was alarmed at the tragedy of fascism in Asia and Europe. He took seriously his role as national spokesperson and began to write poems and stories as warnings to the American people. Among these were "The Blood of the Martyrs," "Into Egypt," "The Last of the Legions," "Nightmare at Noon," and "By the Waters of Babylon," the last of which is credited by science-fiction historians as establishing many of the conventions of stories about a future world of survivors after an apocalyptic war . . . . Benét wished to reach more Americans and realized radio was the way. In those pre-television days, radio had as devoted audiences as TV does now. Benét's poems and stories were read over the air and heard by millions. His good friend, the poet Archibald MacLeish, had written three plays just for radio, and encouraged Benét to do the same. What followed would be the most astonishing output of original works for radio by a literary author ever produced, and more importantly, ever listened to over a four-year period. Benét was a natural writer for radio. As Norman Rosten says in his foreword to the published radio scripts, "Steve Benét had that gather-ye-round quality, and the folks sure did gather when he spoke!" . . . His mastery of poetry and the short story suited the need for compactness with a singular effect; his reputation as a man of conscience and a patriot who loved his country was exactly right for an America facing the threat of fascism that was already producing killing fields abroad. But, as Rosten points out, writing "[p]ropaganda was nothing new to [Benét]. He was always selling Americans the idea of America" . . . .
Izzo and Konkle note that the public response to Benét's works for radio was extraordinary, for letters and telegrams poured in after his broadcasts, expressing gratitude. While I ordinarily find politically motivated literature rather bad literature, I find that Benét wrote propaganda that is also very fine literature. Apparently, he was such a sincere nationalist that he wrote about exactly what inspired him to support 'Americanism' and oppose fascism.

Unfortunately, he did not get to see the American victory over fascism, nor was he to continue his inspiring broadcasts, for he died in 1943, at the young age of 44.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stephen Vincent Benét's Anti-Fascism

"The Blood of the Martyrs" was the second story in Stephen Vincent Benét's 1937 collection, Thirteen O'Clock: Stories of Several Worlds, and - warning, plot spoilers! - it tells the story of an apolitical biochemist named Malzius in an unnamed country, possibly an Eastern European one, who has been arrested and tortured to determine if he is truly apolitical, and being found to be so, he is offered by the dictator his laboratory and position back if he agrees to also become a spokesperson for the state and use his weight as a famous scientist toward the support of the regime and its political ideology, but he then thinks of all the young men who come from around the world to study under him and who do so because of his reputation as a rigorously honest scientist:
He paused again, seeing their faces before him. There were many. There was Williams, the Englishman, who had died in the war, and little Gregopolous with the fox-terrier eyes. There were all who had passed through his classrooms, from the stupidest to the best. They had shot little Gregopolous for treason, but that did not alter the case. From all over the world they had come - he remembered the Indian student and the Chinese. They wore cheap overcoats, they were hungry for knowledge, they ate the bad, starchy food of the poor restaurants, they had miserable little love affairs and played childish games of politics, instead of doing their work. Nevertheless, a few were promising - all must be given the truth. It did not matter if they died, but they must be given the truth. Otherwise there could be no continuity and no science.

He looked at the Dictator before him - yes, it was a hysteric face. He would know how to deal with it in his classroom - but such faces should not rule countries or young men. One was willing to go through a great many meaningless ceremonies in order to do one's work - wear a uniform or salute or be president of the Academy. That did not matter; it was part of the due to Caesar. But not to tell lies to young men on one's own subject. After all, they had called him The Bear . . . . They had given him their terrible confidence - not for love or kindness, but because they had found him honest. It was too late to change.
Though surrounded by military men, he nevertheless resists:
Professor Malzius stood, his fingers gripping the big, old-fashioned inkwell. It was full of ink - the servants of the Dictator were very efficient. They could shoot small people with the eyes of fox terriers for treason, but their trains arrived on time and their inkwells did not run dry.

"The state," he said, breathing. "Yes. But science does not know about states. And you are a little man - a little, unimportant man."

Then, before the General could stop him, he had picked up the inkwell and thrown it in the Dictator's face. The next moment the General's fist caught him on the side of the head and he fell behind the desk to the floor. But lying there, through his cracked glasses, he could still see the grotesque splashes of ink on the Dictator's face and uniform, and the small cut above his eye where the blood was gathering. They had not fired; he had thought he would be too close to the Dictator for them to fire in time.

"Take that man out and shoot him. At once," said the Dictator in a dry voice. He did not move to wipe the stains from his uniform—and for that Professor Malzius admired him. They rushed then, each anxious to be first. But Professor Malzius made no resistance.
Rather, he made no further resistance. No more was needed.

This story by Benét demonstrates his anti-fascist views as early as 1937, such views being perhaps an outgrowth of his Americanism, but also shaped no doubt by his study abroad in Europe.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Stephen Vincent Benét's Grave

Grave of Stephen Vincent Benét
Find a Grave
Photo supplied by Robert Rich

This webpage of Find a Grave offers viewers a few photos of Benét's grave, plus a brief but informative bio by "Iola" that tells me a few things I didn't know, including this:
A short story collection, 'Thirteen O'clock' published in 1937, included . . . one of his most famous stories, 'The Devil and Daniel Webster'. The story was later made into a play, an opera, and a film, the title becoming 'All That Money Can [Buy].'
Also, this information speaks to Benét's 'Americanism':
By 1940, Benét was a strong advocate of America's entry into WWII.
But the question is "Why?" For Europe's sake? Or America's?

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stephen Vincent Benét's Dark Moment of Optimism

By the Waters of Babylon
Google Images

Stephen Vincent Benét also wrote a post-apocalyptic short story, "By the Waters of Babylon (1937)," which I excerpt here, though I add a spoiler alert, for the two paragraphs below are the story's conclusion, in which a son tells his father what he has learned from his journey into manhood and priesthood:
I told and he listened. After that, I wished to tell all the people but he showed me otherwise. He said, "Truth is a hard deer to hunt. If you eat too much truth at once, you may die of the truth. It was not idly that our fathers forbade the Dead Places." He was right - 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.

Nevertheless, we make a beginning. it is not for the metal alone we go to the Dead Places now - there are the books and the writings. They are hard to learn. And the magic tools are broken - but we can look at them and wonder. At least, we make a beginning. And, when I am chief priest we shall go beyond the great river. We shall go to the Place of the Gods - the place newyork - not one man but a company. We shall look for the images of the gods and find the god ASHING and the others - the gods Lincoln and Biltmore and Moses. But they were men who built the city, not gods or demons. They were men. I remember the dead man's face. They were men who were here before us. We must build again.
The narrator has earlier explained that fire from the sky and a poisonous mist had destroyed the 'ancients' and their world. Much time has passed, and only a priestly class keeps some knowledge alive. The narrator, a young priest, tells of disobeying the law not to go east, but his discoveries convinced him that men must rebuild. His father, who listens to the tale, cautions him about revealing too much too soon, and the son sees the wisdom in his father's words. Note the subtle reference to the Tree of Knowledge in the words of the son: "in the old days, they ate knowledge too fast."

Oddly enough, even this dark story offers an example of Benét's 'Americanism.' The optimism that men can rebuild civilization is spoken by an 'American' . . . or, anyway, by a descendant of Americans. The title itself - "By the Waters of Babylon" (although a re-titling by Benét) - reminds the reader of the biblical line that follows, "we sat down and wept, for we remembered Zion," and just as Zion was rebuilt in the Old Testament, the New Zion known as "America" - the Shining City on a Hill, the Light unto the Nations - would be rebuilt.

Even in his darkest vision, Benét's "can-do optimism" is so very American.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Joan Shelley Rubin on Stephen Vincent Benét's 'Amercanism'

Joan Shelley Rubin
University of Rochester

In Songs of Ourselves (Harvard University Press, 2009), Joan Shelley Rubin describes Stephen Vincent Benét's 'Amercanism':
The most prominent and influential individual to make poetry a weapon to aid the Allies [against the fascist Axis powers in WWII] . . . was Stephen Vincent Benét . . . . When he arrived at Yale in 1915, Benét already thought of himself as a poet . . . . He evinced as well an earnestness about both his calling and his country: as his friend MacLeish later observed, "Steve was more conscious of being an American than any other man I ever knew" . . . . The critical reception of [Benét's 'Americanist' epic poem] John Brown's Body [thirteen years later] was decidedly mixed; a number of reviewers thought the poem uneven and overreaching. Nevertheless, it was among the best-selling nonfiction books of 1928 and the only sustained work of poetry to attain a wide popular audience in the early twentieth century. Although reviewers frequently compared Benét to Whitman because of their shared scope and subject, readers' responses to the poem, as Benét's biographer has pointed out, resembled the enthusiasm the public had shown for Longfellow. Edited by Benét's close friend from Yale, John Farrar, and published by the fledgling firm of Doubleday, Doran, the book sold 130,000 copies in the first two first two years after publication; even in the depths of the Depression, Americans bought an average of 6,000 copies a year at the volume's original price . . . . In sum, John Brown's Body reasserted the figure of the poet as both sage and intimate at a time when high modernism had eroded those roles for many American publishers and readers . . . . John Brown's Body also capitalized on the surge of interest in American culture during the 1920s, and particularly the Lincoln boom of the period. As countless fan letters of the period attest, various qualities of the text itself judiciously appealed to a range of readers: Benét acknowledged the suffering of both North and South, balanced depictions of "virile" action with passages of feminine emotion, and tempered modernist devices such as Eliotic allusions with old-fashioned narrative clarity. The result of all these factors that Benét's best-seller recentered poetry as an American medium suitable for transmitting an American message. John Brown's Body seemed especially susceptible to rereading. "I have no way of telling you the place in my life your [book] has found," a Texas man declared in a letter to Benét. "Let me say this - it is the book I pick up when I am frayed out, disgusted, exhausted - and it always brings back my balance." The response to the work by Benét's readers shaped his cultural function after 1940, as first the threat of fascism and then the outbreak of World War II engaged the country's attention. One concrete result of the persistent popularity of John Brown's Body was its issuance in 1943 in an Armed Services edition. In the wartime context, the principle of freedom from slavery for which Brown had sacrificed his life became the basis for battling the Nazis and Japanese. More generally, the consensus Benét had forged about the centrality of the Civil War for all Americans served as the foundation for his stance as champion of national unity to further the Allied cause. On the air and in print, Benét rallied his audience to hear a single message: American citizens must defend their democratic traditions against the enemies threatening their free way of life.

Among the writings in which Benét expressed that view were those reprinted in A Summons to the Free, a pamphlet in the series "America in a World at War" which Farrar and Rinehart published in 1941. The pamphlet, containing both prose and verse, concluded with Benét's "Nightmare at Noon," a poem that had first appeared in the New York Times Magazine in June 1940. The text depicts Nazi occupation of northern Europe and prods complacent Americans into envisioning what their own cities would be like if fascism prevailed. One passage succinctly reiterates the principle of civic nationalism: "You can be a Finn or a Dane and an American. / You can be German or French and an American, / Jew, Bohunk, Nigger, Mick - all the dirty names / We call each other - and yet American." Acknowledging that American ideals did not always correspond to reality, Benét nevertheless affirmed that "as a country, we try." Still an exemplar of balance - here between isolationists and left-wing ideologues - he thus earned praise from a reader who told him that she wanted to send copies of the text both to "every official in Washington" and to "careless-thinking young radicals" contemptuous of "the American way of living." (Rubin, Songs of Ourselves, pages 230-233)
The crucial point is this: "Benét's best-seller recentered poetry as an American medium suitable for transmitting an American message," and the message was one of national unity achieved through the democratic freedom to be an individual whose unique voice could be raised and heard.

There were obvious tensions in this message since some of those unique voices were the "careless-thinking young radicals" contemptuous of "the American way of living."

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Chauncey Brewster Tinker - Inspiration to Stephen Vincent Benét?

Chauncey Brewster Tinker
Yale University Art Gallery

In his Foreword to Stephen Vincent Benét's juvenalia, Young Adventure: A Book of Poems (1918), published when Benét was merely 20, the professor of English literature at Yale and leading Boswell scholar Chauncey Brewster Tinker wrote the following words:
[Prior to the Great War,] we passed into a false freedom [in poetry] 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.
In this collection of poems, Benét never once mentions America, but he was perhaps affected these words by Tinker, namely, that "[o]ur poetry - and I am speaking in particular of American poetry - has been centrifugal; our poets have broken up into smaller and ever smaller groups," for Benét went on in his more mature works to make an attempt at bringing the varied pieces of America together in a single vision, as we have already seen in his Invocation to John Brown's Body some ten years later, in 1928:
So, from a hundred visions, I make one,
And out of darkness build my mocking sun.
In adopting 'Americanism,' Benét set himself up for "some critics to label him an old-fashioned, quaint, and chauvinistic writer," as has been widely noted.

But Benét is broader than that, as we have seen and shall again see . . .

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stephen Vincent Benét: American Name?

Stephen Vincent Benét
Google Images

I'm still trying to pinpoint precisely what Stephen Vincent Benét's 'Americanism' consisted of, and where might one better look than at his 1927 poem "American Names":
American Names

I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.

Seine and Piave are silver spoons,
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,
There are English counties like hunting-tunes
Played on the keys of a postboy's horn,
But I will remember where I was born.

I will remember Carquinez Straits,
Little French Lick and Lundy's Lane,
The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates
And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane.
I will remember Skunktown Plain.

I will fall in love with a Salem tree
And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,
I will get me a bottle of Boston sea
And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues.
I am tired of loving a foreign muse.

Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard,
Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman's Oast,
It is a magic ghost you guard
But I am sick for a newer ghost,
Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post.

Henry and John were never so
And Henry and John were always right?
Granted, but when it was time to go
And the tea and the laurels had stood all night,
Did they never watch for Nantucket Light?

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 Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
Are the most American names the odd ones derived from British English but given an oddball American twist? Not only. Consider John Brown's Body, published a year later (1928):
Call up the American names,
Kagi, the self-taught scholar, quiet and cool,
Stevens, the cashiered soldier, bawling his song,
Dangerfield Newby, the freed Scotch-mulatto,
Watson and Oliver Brown and all the hard-dying.
The name "Kagi" doesn't sound typically American, but the others certainly do. Or did. But what about Stephen Vincent Benét's own family name . . . did it sound 'American'? Was he overcompensating?

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Invocation to Stephen Vincent Benét's Epic Poem John Brown's Body

Stamp Honoring Stephen Vincent Benét
Google Images

Note the allusion to the Civil War in the stamp's background - those marching African-American troops - an allusion also related to today's blog topic, which I foreshadowed yesterday with my promise to post the Invocation to Stephen Vincent Benét's epic poem John Brown's Body (1928), so here it is:
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 mountainous-deep, as flowered with blue rivers,
Thirsty with deserts, buried under snows,
As native as the shape of Navajo quivers,
And native, too, as the sea-voyaged rose.

Swift runner, never captured or subdued,
Seven-branched elk beside the mountain stream,
That half a hundred hunters have pursued
But never matched their bullets with the dream,

Where the great huntsmen failed, I set my sorry
And mortal snare for your immortal quarry.

You are the buffalo-ghost, the broncho-ghost
With dollar-silver in your saddle-horn,
The cowboys riding in from Painted Post,
The Indian arrow in the Indian corn,

And you are the clipped velvet of the lawns
Where Shropshire grows from Massachusetts sods,
The grey Maine rocks - and the war-painted dawns
That break above the Garden of the Gods.

The prairie-schooners crawling toward the ore
And the cheap car, parked by the station-door.

Where the skyscrapers lift their foggy plumes
Of stranded smoke out of a stony mouth
You are that high stone and its arrogant fumes,
And you are ruined gardens in the South

And bleak New England farms, so winter-white
Even their roofs look lonely, and the deep
The middle grainland where the wind of night
Is like all blind earth sighing in her sleep.

A friend, an enemy, a sacred hag
With two tied oceans in her medicine-bag.

They tried to fit you with an English song
And clip your speech into the English tale.
But, even from the first, the words went wrong,
The catbird pecked away the nightingale.

The homesick men begot high-cheekboned things
Whose wit was whittled with a different sound
And Thames and all the rivers of the kings
Ran into Mississippi and were drowned.

They planted England with a stubborn trust.
But the cleft dust was never English dust.

Stepchild of every exile from content
And all the disavouched, hard-bitten pack
Shipped overseas to steal a continent
With neither shirts nor honor to their back.

Pimping grandee and rump-faced regicide,
Apple-cheeked younkers from a windmill-square,
Puritans stubborn as the nails of Pride,
Rakes from Versailles and thieves from County Clare,

The black-robed priests who broke their hearts in vain
To make you God and France or God and Spain.

These were your lovers in your buckskin-youth.
And each one married with a dream so proud
He never knew it could not be the truth
And that he coupled with a girl of cloud.

And now to see you is more difficult yet
Except as an immensity of wheel
Made up of wheels, oiled with inhuman sweat
And glittering with the heat of ladled steel.

All these you are, and each is partly you,
And none is false, and none is wholly true.

So how to see you as you really are,
So how to suck the pure, distillate, stored
Essence of essence from the hidden star
And make it pierce like a riposting sword.

For, as we hunt you down, you must escape
And we pursue a shadow of our own
That can be caught in a magician's cape
But has the flatness of a painted stone.

Never the running stag, the gull at wing,
The pure elixir, the American thing.

And yet, at moments when the mind was hot
With something fierier than joy or grief,
When each known spot was an eternal spot
And every leaf was an immortal leaf,

I think that I have seen you, not as one,
But clad in diverse semblances and powers,
Always the same, as light falls from the sun,
And always different, as the differing hours.

Yet, through each altered garment that you wore,
The naked body, shaking the heart's core.

All day the snow fell on that Eastern town
With its soft, pelting, little, endless sigh
Of infinite flakes that brought the tall sky down
Till I could put my hands in the white sky

And taste cold scraps of heaven on my tongue
And walk in such a changed and luminous light
As gods inhabit when the gods are young.
All day it fell. And when the gathered night

Was a blue shadow cast by a pale glow
I saw you then, snow-image, bird of the snow.

And I have seen and heard you in the dry
Close-huddled furnace of the city street
When the parched moon was planted in the sky
And the limp air hung dead against the heat.

I saw you rise, red as that rusty plant,
Dizzied with lights, half-mad with senseless sound,
Enormous metal, shaking to the chant
Of a triphammer striking iron ground.

Enormous power, ugly to the fool,
And beautiful as a well-handled tool.

These, and the memory of that windy day
On the bare hills, beyond the last barbed wire,
When all the orange poppies bloomed one way
As if a breath would blow them into fire,

I keep forever, like the sea-lion's tusk
The broken sailor brings away to land,
But when he touches it, he smells the musk,
And the whole sea lies hollow in his hand.

So, from a hundred visions, I make one,
And out of darkness build my mocking sun.

And should that task seem fruitless in the eyes
Of those a different magic sets apart
To see through the ice-crystal of the wise
No nation but the nation that is Art,

Their words are just. But when the birchbark-call
Is shaken with the sound that hunters make
The moose comes plunging through the forest-wall
Although the rifle waits beside the lake.

Art has no nations - but the mortal sky
Lingers like gold in immortality.

This flesh was seeded from no foreign grain
But Pennsylvania and Kentucky wheat,
And it has soaked in California rain
And five years tempered in New England sleet

To strive at last, against an alien proof
And by the changes of an alien moon,
To build again that blue, American roof
Over a half-forgotten battle-tune

And call unsurely, from a haunted ground,
Armies of shadows and the shadow-sound.

In your Long House there is an attic-place
Full of dead epics and machines that rust,
And there, occasionally, with casual face,
You come awhile to stir the sleepy dust;

Neither in pride nor mercy, but in vast
Indifference at so many gifts unsought,
The yellowed satins, smelling of the past,
And all the loot the lucky pirates brought.

I only bring a cup of silver air,
Yet, in your casualness, receive it there.

Receive the dream too haughty for the breast,
Receive the words that should have walked as bold
As the storm walks along the mountain-crest
And are like beggars whining in the cold.

The maimed presumption, the unskilful skill,
The patchwork colors, fading from the first,
And all the fire that fretted at the will
With such a barren ecstasy of thirst.

Receive them all - and should you choose to touch them
With one slant ray of quick, American light,
Even the dust will have no power to smutch them,
Even the worst will glitter in the night.

If not - the dry bones littered by the way
May still point giants toward their golden prey.
Most of you probably didn't read the entire Invocation. I've had to read it three times to understand it. Basically, the poet calls upon the unnamed American muse - which he compares to a seven-branched elk, a buffalo-ghost, a broncho-ghost, a running stag, a gull at wing, and a mysterious bird of the snow, all of which he is actively pursuing, in effect, hunting - in hope that this muse will aid him, "So [that], from a hundred visions, I make one, / And out of darkness build my mocking sun." By "mocking," he doesn't mean that he is ridiculing the theme he has chosen. Rather, he means that he hopes to imitate the sun that lights "a hundred visions." Benét celebrates America's diversity, but he is no multiculturalist, for he seeks the completion of e pluribus unum ("Out of many, one"), not the division of ex uno, plures ("Out of one, many"). That's the sun that unifies the manifold visions.

Benét is not uncritical, for does refer to the European settlers as "Shipped overseas to steal a continent." And his poem is about slavery . . .

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