Thursday, July 22, 2010

The youngest of the Benét children, Stephen Vincent Benét, was born on this day in 1898 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Stephen, his brother William, and sister Laura, were all prolific poets and novelists, yet Stephen is considered the epitome of the American poet. It was his interest in American history and folklore that garnered Benét his first Pultizer Prize for the long ballad, John Brown’s Body, which he penned in 1928. This American masterpiece exemplifies the War Between the States in dramatic poetry. It draws verbal pictures from the slave trade in the 1600s and the political events that led to the war to the Battle of Gettysburg and the abolitionsists of New England.

Ten years later, Benét took his fantasy story, The Devil and Daniel Webster, which combined an old folk tale with the history of New England, and adapted it into a folk opera. He then wrote the screenplay for a movie of the same title, which was also known as: All That Money Can Buy, A Certain Mr. Scratch, Daniel and the Devil, and Here is a Man.

Stephen, who studied at Yale University, was published at an early age. His works include his 1920 volume of poetry, Heavens and Earth, novels, Young People’s Pride and Spanish Bayonet, and a collection of short stories, Thirteen O’Clock.

Benét, who was married to the former Rosemary Carr, died at the early age of 45, before he completed his last narrative poem about the settling of America. Western Star, the completed first section of the epic, earned Benét another Pulitzer Prize, this one posthumously. (His brother William was honored with his own Pulitzer the previous year.)

One hundred years after his birth, Stephen Vincent Benét was honored with his portrait on a U.S. stamp. The unveiling of the stamp was held at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the scene of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry during the Civil War. If you have ever read any of Benét’s poetry, you would have to agree with Don Campbell, the Superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, when he said, “This is really where John Brown’s soul and Stephen Vincent Benét’s poetry come together for an eternity.”

Benét’s son, Thomas, said, “Who knows what he might have accomplished had he lived longer. I feel this occasion would have pleased him immensely.”

The American poet, Stephen Vincent Benét, will live forever through his poetry.


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