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John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benét


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Has anyone else read this? It is a novel in verse, with a few prose sections which could be called prose poems. It also includes a number of lyric poems like 'Thirteen sisters beside the sea'. After a prelude set on a slave ship, the story follows the American Civil War in detail, from John Brown's uprising to the shooting of Lincoln. There are a number of characters whose stories are intertwined - Jack Ellyat the Northern volunteer, Clay Wingate from a rich Southern family, Spade the runaway slave, and many more. Real people of the time also appear: Lincoln, Lee, Jackson, Grant. The book was written in 1928, and the depiction of the slaves would not satisfy a modern audience. Benét himself apologised that he was too white to tell black people's stories properly, but he did his best for the time he lived in. He also did his best to make both sides sympathetic - and succeeds. They're all human, with their own needs and fears. Almost no one is a monster, though the captain of the slave ship might be an exception.


Anyway, I highly recommend it. I read it years ago, and recently spotted that I could download it to my Kindle for 49p. However, the lines on my Kindle are nothing like long enough for poetry set in long lines unless the print is tiny, so I bought a second-hand copy from Abe Books instead. This is the route I would recommend. I don't think it's in print, so you can't buy new.


I decided to post it here, rather than in the novels section, because most poetry-lovers also like novels, while the reverse is certainly not true.

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Never heard of it but since I enjoyed Les Chants de Maldoror by Conte De Lautreamont I decided to give this a try.  I got mine new from Amazon :  Stephen Vincent Benet Poetry Collection (3 Books): John Brown’s Body, Young Adventure, Nightmare at Noon and other Poems so am looking forward to it.  Will get it next week though.

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