Tuesday, January 31, 2006

ABRAHAM LINCOLN WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (In Springfield, Illinois)

It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the court-house pacing up and down.

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards,
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great fugure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us: - as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come; --the shining hope of Europe free:
The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who shall bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

August, 1914

3 comments:

Larry Stevens said...

This is one of Lindsay's most haunting poems. As Europe plunged into World War I, Lindsay evoked the memory Lincoln to decry the madness and folly of it all.

Lindsay grew up only a few blocks away from the Abraham Lincoln Home in Sprinfield, Illinois in a home that was built and owned by the same Rev. Dresser who sold the Lincoln's their home. The two houses are similar in style and the Lindsay home was owned by Mary Todd Lincoln's sister and brother-in-law, the C.M. Smiths. Abraham Lincoln was a visitor in the Smiths' home and is known to have attended a reception there in his honor before departing to Washington DC in 1861.

Lindsay's Lincoln seemingly "stalks" right out of the pages of William H. Herndon's Life of Lincoln,

"On a winter's morning he might be seen stalking towards the market-house, basket on arm, his old gray shawl wrapped around his neck..."

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