Stephen Vincent Benet

Young Blood

"But, sir," I said, "they tell me the man is like
to die!" The Canon shook his head indulgently.
"Young blood, Cousin," he boomed. "Young 
blood! Youth will be served!"
                            D'Hermonville's Fabliaux.

He woke up with a sick taste in his mouth
And lay there heavily, while dancing motes
Whirled through his brain in endless, rippling streams,
And a grey mist weighed down upon his eyes
So that they could not open fully. Yet
After some time his blurred mind stumbled back
To its last ragged memory--a room;
Air foul with wine; a shouting, reeling crowd
Of friends who dragged him, dazed and blind with drink
Out to the street; a crazy rout of cabs;
The steady mutter of his neighbor's voice,
Mumbling out dull obscenity by rote;
And then . . . well, they had brought him home it seemed,
Since he awoke in bed--oh, damn the business!
He had not wanted it--the silly jokes,
"One last, great night of freedom ere you're married!"
"You'll get no fun then!" "H-ssh, don't tell that story,
He'll have a wife soon!"--God! the sitting down
To drink till you were sodden! . . .
                                                                     Like great light
She came into his thoughts. That was the worst.
To wallow in the mud like this because
His friends were fools. He was not fit to touch,
To see, oh far, far off, that silver place
Where God stood manifest to man in her. . . .
Fouling himself. . . . One thing he brought to her,
At least. He had been clean; had taken it
A kind of point of honor from the first.
Others might wallow but he didn't care
For those things. . . .		              
                                        Suddenly his vision cleared.
And something seemed to grow within his mind.
Something was wrong--the color of the wall--
The queer shape of the bedposts--everything
Was changed, somehow . . . his room. Was this his room?
. . . He turned his head--and saw beside him there
The sagging body's slope, the paint-smeared face,
And the loose, open mouth, lax and awry,
The breasts, the bleached and brittle hair . . . these things.
. . . As if all Hell were crushed to one bright line
Of lightning for a moment. Then he sank,
Prone beneath an intolerable weight.
And bitter loathing crept up all his limbs.