2008: 53. The Devil and Daniel Webster and Other Writings

“It’s a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire.

Yes, Dan’l Webster’s dead - or, at least, they buried him.”

First line of "The Devil And Daniel Webster"

The Devil and Daniel Webster and Other Stories, Stephen Vincent Benet

I read this because it was my next commuting book (on the B shelf).  I don’t even think I bought it - I’m pretty Jon bought because of the Daniel Webster connection (Jon and I love Daniel Webster - we even took a Daniel Webster seminar at Dartmouth).  And it was so, so good.  Of course, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" is a great story - so, so fun and iconic, plus, duh, Daniel Webster is so, so great.  But the other stories are great too.  The book breaks it up Benet’s stories by subject matter - a number dealing with Americana, such as Daniel, then a bunch about modern (or rather 1930’s when Benet was writing) America, mostly in the cities, and then a few about political oppression.  All are excellent and a number have stayed with me long after I finished the book, and I recommend them highly.

Moreover, I really enjoyed the poetry too - I was not really looking forward to that as much, but they were first rate.  First, the excerpts from his Pulitzer Prize winning "John Brown’s Body", his book length poem about the Civil War are extremely moving.  And the short poems (which are a bit easier to digest, of course) are great too.  I particularly enjoyed “American Names”, which has a famous last line. (Although I am obviously uncomfortable with one word therein.  Boo, Benet).

                    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.

                    Scine and Piave are silver spoons,

                    But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,

                    There are English counties like hunting-tune

                    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 the 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 the 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 new 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 in 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.

Date/Place Completed: 4/6/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017