T.R. is having a bully time.
His hat’s in every ring.
He’s shooting lions in Africa.
He’s shaking hands with a king.
He’s writing books and he’s biting crooks,
And his Big Stick swings afar.
No, it isn’t really the Judgment Day,
It’s simply our T.R.
So reads the central stanza in Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét’s poem about Theodore Roosevelt in A Book of Americans. Published in 1933, the book takes on figures ranging from the “Indian” to Johnny Appleseed and Sam Houston. The poem dedicated to T.R. falls squarely between Robert Peary and Woodrow Wilson. Each poetic tribute is also accompanied by a woodcut illustration.
Stephen Vincent Benét realized that all so rare of poet dreams: he was famous while he still lived! His father was in the U.S. Army and he grew up in a home surrounded by books. He also looked up to his father, not unlike a young T.R. Benét excelled in taking the popular images of his time and turning them into poetry. This also guaranteed that he would not be considered fondly by poetic critics. Instead his work connected straight to general readers. T.R. probably could have read one of his poems as the start to a campaign speech and been met with a boisterous round of applause. In 1925, Benét was also awarded a $2500 grant from the Guggenheim Foundation to write a 15,000 line epic poem of the Civil War. John Brown’s Body was published in 1928. In his poetry, Benét thought and dreamed big.
Less is known about his wife, Rosemary. Her name does appear first on the cover of A Book of Americans. However, her personal story is harder to track down. Anyone who knows any details is welcome to email me at [email protected].
I wouldn’t call him infallible,
But you can understand
Why life was never a dull affair
When T.R. ruled the land.
We’ve had quite a lot of Presidents,
They come from near and far,
—And few have tried to avoid the job—
—A couple merely annoyed the job—
But no one ever enjoyed the job
With the gusto of T.R.
Stephen Vincent Benét. Poetry Foundation. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/stephen-vincent-benaet.
Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét. A Book of Americans. New York: National Process Company, 1933.
Twelve great men in history. How many have you got?, 1912. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.