Friday, May 11, 2012

John Brown's Body

John Brown Nights alone are the cathedrals and basilicas of my life, and the stars are the votive candles that hear my prayers and confessions. But in this moment I have naught to confess, save a mood for poetry. The saint I shall invoke is none other than the patron of the American epic, Stephen Vincent Benét. Herewith the final lines of John Brown's Body:
          Stand apart
From the loud crowd and look upon the flame
Alone and steadfast, without praise or blame.
This is the monster and the sleeping queen
And both have roots struck deep in your own mind,
This is reality that you have seen,
This is reality that made you blind.

So, when the crowd gives tongue
And prophets, old or young,
Bawl out their strange despair
Or fall in worship there,
Let them applaud the image or condemn
But keep your distance and your soul from them.
And, if the heart within your breast must burst
Like a cracked crucible and pour its steel
White-hot before the white heat of the wheel,
Strive to recast once more
That attar of the ore
In the strong mold of pain
Till it is whole again,
And while the prophets shudder or adore
Before the flame, hoping it will give ear,
If you at last must have a word to say,
Say neither, in their way,
"It is a deadly magic and accursed,"
Nor "It is blest," but only "It is here."

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