Thursday, January 07, 2021

Benet in The Oxford Book of American Poetry (206)

Since my most recent post on Benet, I've become aware of a  poetry anthology, in the same series, but with the word "Verse" changed to "Poetry":

The Oxford Book of American Poetry

The poems were chosen and edited by David Lehman, assisted by Associate Editor John Brehm for Oxford University Press (2006 Lehman). Lehman tells us that he has restored seven poets:

who were in the Matthiessen canon in 1950 but fell out in 1976: Phelps Putnam, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie, Stephen Vincent Benet, Karl Shapiro, Amy Lowell, and W.  H. Auden. [xiv]

On page 419, we learn of Benet's life: Stephen Vincent Benet (1898-1943)

Stephen Vincent Benet was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the son of an Army colonel and the grandson of a brigadier general. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice and chose, as judge of the Yale Younger Poets Series, the first books by James Agee and Muriel Rukeyser. (His brother William Rose Benet, who married Elinor Wylie, also won a Pulitzer.) Stephen Vincent Benet remains best known perhaps for his story "The Devil and Daniel Webster." When World War II began, he wrote radio scripts — They Burned the Books, Your Army, Dear Adolf— to further the U.S. war effort.

But Lehman offers only one poem on pages 419-420 as representative of Benet's work:

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.


 Page 1088 shows Lehman following copyright law in citing as follows:

Stephen Vincent Benet, "American Names" from Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benet (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1955). Copyright 1927 by Stephen Vincent Benet, renewed © 1955 by Rosemary Carr Benet. Reprinted with the permission of Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents, Inc.

Lehman's choice of "American Names" is somewhat peculiar, for it's not Benet's best shorter poem, but there it is.


At 4:13 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

This point is minor, bordering on irrelevant, but I find it interesting: Benét's surname seems to have lost its acute accent. Not that the name struck me as validly French even with the accent: in French, you don't normally see a common noun or surname ending in "et" where the "e" has an acute accent over it. The "et" is already pronounced \eɪ\ in French, obviating the need for an acute accent.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

His name was probably Spanish since he was Minorcan. And the Minorcans probably spoke a dialect of Spanish. There may be some other set of rules operating here.

Jeffery Hodges

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