Stephen Vincent Benet

The Breaking Point

It was not when temptation came, 
Swiftly and blastingly as flame, 
And seared me white with burning scars; 
When I stood up for age-long wars 
And held the very Fiend at grips; 
When all my mutinous body rose 
To range itself beside my foes, 
And, like a greyhound in the slips, 
The Beast that dwells within me roared, 
Lunging and straining at his cord. . . . 
For all the blusterings of Hell, 
It was not then I slipped and fell; 
For all the storm, for all the hate, 
I kept my soul inviolate! 

But when the fight was fought and won, 
And there was Peace as still as Death 
On everything beneath the sun. 
Just as I started to draw breath, 
And yawn, and stretch, and pat myself, 
-- The grass began to whisper things -- 
And every tree became an elf, 
That grinned and chuckled counsellings: 
Birds, beasts, one thing alone they said, 
Beating and dinning at my head. 
I could not fly. I could not shun it. 
Slimily twisting, slow and blind, 
It crept and crept into my mind. 
Whispered and shouted, sneered and laughed, 
Screamed out until my brain was daft. . . . 
One snaky word, ”What if you’d done it?” 

And I began to think . . . 
Ah, well, 
What matter how I slipped and fell? 
Or you, you gutter-searcher say! 
Tell where you found me yesterday!

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