American Names Poem by Stephen Vincent Benet

American Names



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.

Seine and Piave are silver spoons,
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,
There are English counties like hunting-tunes
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 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 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 newer 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 at 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.

Saturday, January 17, 2015
Topic(s) of this poem: america
COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Modern Translator 23 January 2018

Substitute “and a Muddy Waters to sing me blues” in the next-to-last line of the 4th stanza.

7 2 Reply
Reaa Fuerth 13 October 2018

How wonderful! He captured that essence that belongs only to us.

2 0 Reply
Jake Rosenberg 23 March 2021

When I read the poem, I say Blue-Gummed Brother. That's what it ought to be.

1 1 Reply
sojournist 16 October 2020

How about simply " a blue-gummed black to sing me blues."

0 1 Reply
Molly Fisk 09 July 2020

Have always wondered who they were, John Andrews! And have never memorized the poem because of that blue-gum line. Liking the suggestions below, but not sure about the ethics of changing someone else's line, no matter how distasteful and archaic it is.

1 1 Reply
John Andrews 01 July 2020

Chris Flannery featured this on his American Story podcast recently, very moving. Who do you think he means by Henry and John in stanza 6? Some blogger suggested two American expats tending to favor Europe over the USA, Henry Adams and John Dos Passos. I'm not persuaded. One could be Henry James, though. The other perhaps John Reed. Your guesses?

1 0 Reply
Jeannie Dunn 06 April 2021

Henry James and John Dos Passos.

1 0 Reply
David Toll 25 December 2019

How about a New Orleans man to sing me the blues?

3 2 Reply
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Stephen Vincent Benet

Stephen Vincent Benet

Pennsylvania / United States
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