by: Stephen Vincent Benét

      E LAY within a warm, soft world
      Of motion. Colors bloomed and fled,
      Maroon and turquoise, saffron, red,
      Wave upon wave that broke and whirled
      To vanish in the grey-green gloom,
      Perspectiveless and shadowy.
      A bulging world that had no walls,
      A flowing world, most like the sea,
      Compassing all infinity
      Within a shapeless, ebbing room,
      An endless tide that swells and falls . . .
      He slept and woke and slept again.
      As a veil drops, Time dropped away;
      Space grew a toy for children's play,
      Sleep bolted fast the gates of Sense--
      He lay in naked impotence;
      Like a drenched moth that creeps and crawls
      Heavily up brown, light-baked walls,
      To fall in wreck, her task undone,
      Yet somehow striving toward the sun.
      So, as he slept, his hands clenched tighter,
      Shut in the old way of a fighter,
      His feet curled up to grip the ground,
      His muscles tautened for a bound;
      And though he felt, and felt alone,
      Strange brightness stirred him to the bone,
      Cravings to rise--till deeper sleep
      Buried the hope, the call, the leap;
      A wind puffed out his mind's faint spark.
      He was absorbed into the dark.
      He woke again and felt a surge
      Within him, a mysterious urge
      That grew one hungry flame of passion;
      The whole world altered shape and fashion.
      Deceived, befooled, bereft and torn,
      He scourged the heavens with his scorn,
      Lifting a bitter voice to cry
      Against the eternal treachery--
      Till, suddenly, he found the breast,
      And ceased, and all things were at rest,
      The earth grew one warm languid sea
      And he a wave. Joy, tingling, crept
      Throughout him. He was quenched and slept.
      So, while the moon made broad her ring,
      He slept and cried and was a king.
      So, worthily, he acted o'er
      The endless miracle once more.
      Facing immense adventures daily,
      He strove still onward, weeping, gayly,
      Conquered or fled from them, but grew
      As soil-starved, rouph pine-saplings do.
      Till, one day, crawling seemed suspect.
      He gripped the air and stood erect
      And splendid. With immortal rage
      He entered on man's heritage!

'Portrait of a Baby' was originally published by Stephen Vincent Benét in 1918.




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