poem index

poet

Stephen Vincent Benét

Printer-friendly version

Stephen Vincent Benét was born July 22, 1898, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, into a military family. His father had a wide appreciation for literature, and Benét's siblings, William Rose and Laura, also became writers. Benét attended Yale University where he published two collections of poetry, Five Men and Pompey (1915), The Drug-Shop (1917). His studies were interrupted by a year of civilian military service; he worked as a cipher-clerk in the same department as James Thurber. He graduated from Yale in 1919, submitting his third volume of poems in place of a thesis. He published his first novel The Beginning of Wisdom in 1921. Benét then moved to France to continue his studies at the Sorbonne and returned to the United States in 1923 with his new wife, the writer Rosemary Carr.

Benét was successful in many different literary forms, which included novels, short stories, screenplays, radio broadcasts, and a libretto for an opera by Douglas Moore based on "The Devil and Daniel Webster." His most famous work is the long poem John Brown's Body for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1929—a long narrative poem which interweaves historical and fictional characters to relate important events in the Civil War, from the raid on Harper's Ferry to Lee's surrender at Appomattox. During his lifetime, Benét also received the O. Henry Story Prize, the Roosevelt Medal, and a second Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for the posthumously-published Western Star, the first part of an epic poem based on American history. At the age of 44, Benét suffered a heart attack and died on March 13, 1943, in New York City.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

A Book of Americans (1933)
Ballads and Poems, 1915-1930 (1931)
Five Men and Pompey (1915)
Heavens and Earth (1920)
James Shore's Daughter (1934)
John Brown's Body (1928)
The Burning City (1936)
Western Star (1943)
Young Adventure (1918)

Fiction

Jean Huguenot (1923)
Short Stories (1942)
Spanish Bayonet (1926)
The Beginning of Wisdom (1921)
Thirteen O'Clock (1937)
Young People's Pride (1922)

Non-Fiction

The Magic of Poetry and the Poet's Art (1936)

Plays

The Headless Horseman (1937)

by this poet

poem
There were three stout pillars that held up all
The weight and tradition of Wingate Hall.
One was Cudjo and one was you
And the third was the mistress, Mary Lou.
Mary Lou Wingate, as slightly made
And as hard to break as a rapier-blade.
Bristol's daughter and Wingate's bride,
Never well since the last child died
poem

(For, though not to, D. M. C.)

The member with the face like a pale ham
Settles his stomachs in the leather chair.
The member with the mustard-color hair
Chats with the member like a curly ram,
Then silence like the shutting of a clam,
Gulps, and slow eating, and the

poem
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