The HyperTexts

Abraham Lincoln Poetry: Poems by and about Abraham Lincoln

compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch

Abraham Lincoln was perhaps America's most melancholic poet, and a damned good one. He wrote some of the best dark poems in the English language. Take, for example, these excellent, evocative lines from a poem penned by Lincoln:

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.
—Abraham Lincoln, "My Childhood Home I See Again"

I have created a series of "trivia questions" to help readers learn more about one of the world's most fascinating poets, "Lincoln the Unknown" (as one of his biographers called him). If we are going to understand Abraham Lincoln better, the best way to start is with his poems.

Q: Which American president managed to sound at times like Emily Dickinson, Edgar Alan Poe, John Clare and Robert Herrick?

A: Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished writer long before he became president, and he wrote both poetry and prose at a very high level. In his book Lincoln the Unknown, Dale Carnegie called the closing words of one of his speeches "the most noble and beautiful utterances ever delivered by the lips of mortal man. ... [I] never read them without thinking somehow of an organ playing in the subdued light of a great cathedral." The words Carnegie worshipped and adored are the closing lines from Lincoln's second inaugural address. These words would also be read two months later, to the day, at his funeral:

"Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.' With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

Please note that the opening sentence above constitutes a rhyming poem:

"Fondly do we hope—
fervently do we pray—
that this mighty scourge of war
may speedily pass away.

The passage above that begins, "With malice toward none ..." is the favorite epigram of Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was nearly assassinated and is still recovering from her wounds. Many other lawmakers and peacemakers around the world echo Lincoln's desire for a "just and lasting peace."

Q: Who is the only American president other than Thomas Jefferson whose writing can be considered poetic?

A: Abraham Lincoln. According to historian William E. Gienapp "Lincoln's gift for language was marvelous, even poetic, so much so that he is the only American president other than Thomas Jefferson whose writings can be considered literature."

Abraham Lincoln is a writer well worth reading. Let's consider excerpts from his best poems and prose, to get the "flavor" of his words, and whet the reader's appetite. Then we can look at poems of his in their entirety, followed by poems he loved and other poems written about him ...

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,
And wallow in its waves.
Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.
—Abraham Lincoln, "The Suicide's Soliloquy"

And furious now, the dogs he tears,
    And crushes in his ire,
Wheels right and left, and upward rears,
    With eyes of burning fire.
But leaden death is at his heart,
    Vain all the strength he plies.
And, spouting blood from every part,
    He reels, and sinks, and dies.
—Abraham Lincoln, "The Bear Hunt"

You are young, and I am older;
    You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
    Pluck the roses ere they rot.
—Abraham Lincoln, "To Rosa"

In his first Inaugural Address, speaking to the Southerners who hated him for opposing slavery, Lincoln said quite poetically:

"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

One month before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln sent his Annual Message to Congress, on December 1, 1862: Lincoln devoted so much attention to preparing the message that his friend David Davis said, "Mr. Lincoln's whole soul is absorbed in his plan of remunerative emancipation." The concluding lines demonstrate Lincoln's wonderful humility, empathy and eloquence:

"I do not forget the gravity which should characterize a paper addressed to the Congress of the nation by the Chief Magistrate of the nation. Nor do I forget that some of you are my seniors, nor that many of you have more experience than I, in the conduct of public affairs. Yet I trust that in view of the great responsibility resting upon me, you will perceive no want of respect yourselves, in any undue earnestness I may seem to display ... Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."

The Gettysburg Address is a prose speech that reads like poetry of a high order:

Four score and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation,
conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war,
testing whether that nation,
or any nation,
so conceived
and so dedicated
can long endure.

We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting-place
for those who here gave their lives
that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper
that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate—
we cannot consecrate—
we cannot hallow this ground.
The brave men,
living and dead,
who struggled here
have consecrated it
far above our poor power
to add or detract.
The world will little note,
nor long remember,
what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us, the living,
rather to be dedicated here
to the unfinished work which they have,
thus far,
so nobly carried on.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated
to the great task remaining before us—
that from these honored dead
we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—
that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain;
that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom;
and that this government of the people,
by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln Trivia

Q: What rough-hewn American president wrote and extolled "sweet plaintive songs?"

A sweet plaintive song did I hear,
  And I fancied that she was the singer—
May emotions as pure, as that song set a-stir
  Be the worst that the future shall bring her.
—Abraham Lincoln, "To Linnie"

Q: Which American president wrote in the time-honored tradition of "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" (i.e., "wise" poets counseling "foolish" virgins to "make much of time")?

You are young, and I am older;
    You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
    Pluck the roses ere they rot.
—Abraham Lincoln, "To Rosa"

Q: Which American president, prone to deep bouts of depression, wrote a poem from a suicide's point of view?

Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I'll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!
Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never know;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?
—Abraham Lincoln, "The Suicide's Soliloquy"

Q: Which American president said he "would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write" one particular poem?

A: Abraham Lincoln memorized the poem "Mortality" (by Scottish poet William Knox, although he didn't know the author's identity at the time). Lincoln "became so identified with the poem that some people thought he had written it." He once remarked, "I would give all I am worth, and go in debt, to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is." Lawrence Weldon, who traveled the law circuit with Lincoln, recalled Lincoln reciting the poem in 1860. He said, "The weird and melancholy association of eloquence and poetry had a strong fascination for Mr. Lincoln's mind. Tasteful composition, either of prose or poetry, which faithfully contrasted the realities of eternity with the unstable and fickle fortunes of time, made a strong impression on his mind."

Q: Which American president was a lawyer and a published poet, despite the fact that "the aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year"?

A: At Lincoln's request, Andrew Johnston published Lincoln's poetry anonymously in the Quincy (Illinois) Whig on May 5, 1847.

Q: Of what future president did a close family friend say: "He was always reading—scribbling—writing—ciphering—writing Poetry"?

A: Abraham Lincoln. The comment was made by Dennis Hanks, a relative who lived half a mile from Lincoln's boyhood home in Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana.

Q: What future president's ribald doggerel, or at least parts of it, "were known better than the Bible" in southern Indiana, and may have been among the raciest poetry of its day (circa 1860)?

A: "The Chronicles of Reuben" by Abraham Lincoln pokes fun at Billy Grigsby, who was turned down by a girl he wooed and so ended up with a male lover, Natty ...

I will tell you a Joke about Jewel and Mary
It is neither a Joke nor a Story
For Rubin and Charles has married two girls
But Billy has married a boy
The girlies he had tried on every Side
But none could he get to agree
All was in vain he went home again
And since that is married to Natty
So Billy and Natty agreed very well
And mama's well pleased at the match
The egg it is laid but Natty's afraid
The Shell is So Soft that it never will hatch
But Betsy she said you Cursed bald head
My Suitor you never Can be
Beside your low crotch proclaims you a botch
And that never Can serve for me

Q: According to David Herbert Donald, which American president did not read fiction, making only one abortive stab at Ivanhoe, but praised Robert Burns for his "generous heart, and transcendent genius," and memorized and was able to recite "Tam o'Shanter," "The Cotter's Saturday Night" and long passages from Shakespeare?

A: Lincoln.

Q: Which American president expressed perhaps his most fundamental concept of Divinity and destiny by quoting Hamlet?

A: Lincoln, the rough-hewn frontiersman, liked and quoted these lines: "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will." Those were apt lines for the most rough-hewn of all American presidents.

Q: Which American poet said his early life could be "condensed into single sentence" from the Gray's "Elegy" (i.e., The short and simple annals of the poor) saying "That's my life, and that's all you or anyone else can make of it."

A: Duh.

Full-length Poems by Abraham Lincoln

The Suicide's Soliloquy
by Abraham Lincoln
 
Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o'er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.
No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens' cry.
Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I'll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!
Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never know;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?
To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,
And wallow in its waves.
Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.
Yes! I'm prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn'd on earth!
Sweet steel! come forth from our your sheath,
And glist'ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!
I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

From Sangamo Journal, August 25, 1838

The Bear Hunt

by Abraham Lincoln

A wild-bear chace, didst never see?
    Then hast thou lived in vain.
Thy richest bump of glorious glee,
    Lies desert in thy brain.

When first my father settled here,
    'Twas then the frontier line:
The panther's scream, filled night with fear
    And bears preyed on the swine.
 
But woe for Bruin's short lived fun,
    When rose the squealing cry;
Now man and horse, with dog and gun,
    For vengeance, at him fly.
 
A sound of danger strikes his ear;
    He gives the breeze a snuff;
Away he bounds, with little fear,
    And seeks the tangled rough.
 
On press his foes, and reach the ground,
    Where's left his half munched meal;
The dogs, in circles, scent around,
    And find his fresh made trail.
 
With instant cry, away they dash,
    And men as fast pursue;
O'er logs they leap, through water splash,
    And shout the brisk halloo.
 
Now to elude the eager pack,
    Bear shuns the open ground;
Through matted vines, he shapes his track
    And runs it, round and round.
 
The tall fleet cur, with deep-mouthed voice,
    Now speeds him, as the wind;
While half-grown pup, and short-legged fice,
    Are yelping far behind.
 
And fresh recruits are dropping in
    To join the merry corps:
With yelp and yell,—a mingled din—
    The woods are in a roar.
 
And round, and round the chace now goes,
    The world's alive with fun;
Nick Carter's horse, his rider throws,
    And more, Hill drops his gun.
 
Now sorely pressed, bear glances back,
    And lolls his tired tongue;
When as, to force him from his track,
    An ambush on him sprung.
 
Across the glade he sweeps for flight,
    And fully is in view.
The dogs, new-fired, by the sight,
    Their cry, and speed, renew.
 
The foremost ones, now reach his rear,
    He turns, they dash away;
And circling now, the wrathful bear,
    They have him full at bay.
 
At top of speed, the horse-men come,
    All screaming in a row,
"Whoop! Take him Tiger. Seize him Drum."
    Bang,—bang—the rifles go.
 
And furious now, the dogs he tears,
    And crushes in his ire,
Wheels right and left, and upward rears,
    With eyes of burning fire.
 
But leaden death is at his heart,
    Vain all the strength he plies.
And, spouting blood from every part,
    He reels, and sinks, and dies.
 
And now a dinsome clamor rose,
    'Bout who should have his skin;
Who first draws blood, each hunter knows,
    This prize must always win.
 
But who did this, and how to trace
    What's true from what's a lie,
Like lawyers, in a murder case
    They stoutly argufy.
 
Aforesaid fice, of blustering mood,
    Behind, and quite forgot,
Just now emerging from the wood,
    Arrives upon the spot.
 
With grinning teeth, and up-turned hair—
    Brim full of spunk and wrath,
He growls, and seizes on dead bear,
    And shakes for life and death.
 
And swells as if his skin would tear,
    And growls and shakes again;
And swears, as plain as dog can swear,
    That he has won the skin.
 
Conceited whelp! we laugh at thee—
    Nor mind, that now a few
Of pompous, two-legged dogs there be,
    Conceited quite as you.

Written c. 1846

To Rosa
by Abraham Lincoln

You are young, and I am older;
    You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
    Pluck the roses ere they rot.

Teach your beau to heed the lay—
    That sunshine soon is lost in shade—
That now's as good as any day—
    To take thee, Rosa, ere she fade.

Written c. 1858
 
Verse On Lee's Invasion Of The North
by Abraham Lincoln

Gen. Lee's invasion of the North written by himself—

In eighteen sixty three, with pomp,
      and mighty swell,
Me and Jeff's Confederacy, went
      forth to sack Phil-del,
The Yankees the got arter us, and
      giv us particular hell,
And we skedaddled back again,
      And didn't sack Phil-del.

Written c. 1863

Abraham Lincoln
by Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln,
His hand and pen:
He will be good
but God knows When.

Written c. 1824, around the age of 15

Abraham Lincoln Is My Name
by Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is my name
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast[e] and speed
and left it here for fools to read
Written c. 1824, in a school sum book, around the age of 15

My Childhood's Home I See Again

by Abraham Lincoln

Canto 1
 
My childhood's home I see again,
    And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
    There's pleasure in it too.
 
O Memory! thou midway world
    'Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
    In dreamy shadows rise,
 
And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
    Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle,
    All bathed in liquid light.
 
As dusky mountains please the eye,
    When twilight chases day;
As bugle-notes that, passing by,
    In distance die away;
 
As leaving some grand waterfall,
    We, lingering, list its roar—
So memory will hallow all
    We've known, but know no more.
 
Near twenty years have passed away
    Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
    And playmates loved so well.
 
Where many were, how few remain
    Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
    The lost and absent brings.
 
The friends I left that parting day,
    How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
    And half of all are dead.
 
I hear the loved survivors tell
    How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
    And every spot a grave.
 
I range the fields with pensive tread,
    And pace the hollow rooms;
And feel (companion of the dead)
    I'm living in the tombs.
 
Canto 2
 
But here's an object more of dread
    Than ought the grave contains—
A human form with reason fled,
    While wretched life remains.
 
Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,
    A fortune-favored child—
Now locked for aye, in mental night,
    A haggard mad-man wild.
 
Poor Matthew! I have ne'er forgot
    When first, with maddened will,
Yourself you maimed, your father fought,
    And mother strove to kill;
 
When terror spread, and neighbours ran,
    Your dang'rous strength to bind;
And soon, a howling crazy man
    Your limbs were fast confined.
 
How then you strove and shrieked aloud,
    Your bones and sinnews bared;
And fiendish on the gazing crowd,
    With burning eye-balls glared—
 
And begged, and swore, and wept and prayed
    With maniac laughter joined—
How fearful were those signs displayed
    By pangs that killed thy mind!
 
And when at length, tho' drear and long,
    Time soothed thy fiercer woes,
How plaintively thy mournful song,
    Upon the still night rose.
 
I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed,
    Far-distant, sweet, and lone—
The funeral dirge, it ever seemed
    Of reason dead and gone.
 
To drink its strains, I've stole away,
    All stealthily and still,
Ere yet the rising God of day
    Had streaked the Eastern hill.
 
Air held his breath; trees, with the spell,
    Seemed sorrowing angels round,
Whose swelling tears in dew-drops fell
    Upon the listening ground.
 
But this is past; and nought remains,
    That raised thee o'er the brute.
Thy piercing shrieks, and soothing strains,
    Are like, forever mute.
 
Now fare thee well—more thou the cause,
    Than subject now of woe.
All mental pangs, by time's kind laws,
    Hast lost the power to know.
 
O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince,
    That keepst the world in fear;
Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence,
    And leave him ling'ring here?
 
From Quincy Whig, 1847

Abraham Lincoln's Favorite Poems

The Last Leaf
by Oliver Wendell Holmes

I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
    And again
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o'er the ground
    With his cane.
 
They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
    Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
    Through the town.
 
But now he walks the streets,
And he looks at all he meets
    Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
    "They are gone."
 
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
    In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
    On the tomb.
 
My grandmamma has said—
Poor old lady, she is dead
    Long ago—
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
    In the snow.
 
But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
    Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
    In his laugh.
 
I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
    At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
    Are so queer!
 
And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
    In the spring,—
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
    Where I cling.
 
From Yale Book of American Verse, 1912

Mortality
by William Knox

Job, iii. Ecclesiastes, i.
 
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.
 
The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, the low and the high,
Shall molder to dust, and together shall lie.
 
The infant a mother attended and loved;
The mother that infant's affection who proved;
The husband, that mother and infant who blessed;
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.
 
The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure—her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those who loved her and praised,
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.
 
The hand of the king that the sceptre hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the mitre hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.
 
The peasant, whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman, who climbed with his goats up the steep,
The beggar, who wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.
 
The saint, who enjoyed the communion of Heaven,
The sinner, who dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.
 
So the multitude goes—like the flower or the weed
That withers away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes—even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that has often been told.
 
For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, we feel the same sun,
And run the same course that our fathers have run.
 
The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, our fathers would shrink;
To the life we are clinging, they also would cling—
But it speeds from us all like a bird on the wing.
 
They loved—but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned—but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved—but no wail from their slumber will come;
They joyed—but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.
 
They died—aye, they died—we things that are now,
That walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
And make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.
 
Yea, hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together in sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.
 
'Tis the wink of an eye—'tis the draught of a breath—
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
 
From The Lonely Hearth, the Songs of Israel, Harp of Sion, and Other Poems, 1847

Poems about Abraham Lincoln

The People, Yes

by Carl Sandburg
 
Lincoln?
He was a mystery in smoke and flags
Saying yes to the smoke, yes to the flags,
Yes to the paradoxes of democracy,
Yes to the hopes of government
Of the people by the people for the people,
No to debauchery of the public mind,
No to personal malice nursed and fed,
Yes to the Constitution when a help,
No to the Constitution when a hindrance
Yes to man as a struggler amid illusions,
Each man fated to answer for himself:
Which of the faiths and illusions of mankind
Must I choose for my own sustaining light
To bring me beyond the present wilderness?
 
     Lincoln? Was he a poet?
     And did he write verses?
 
"I have not willingly planted a thorn
     in any man's bosom."
I shall do nothing through malice: what
     I deal with is too vast for malice."
 
Death was in the air.
So was birth.
 
Abraham Lincoln Walks At Midnight
by Vachel Lindsay

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 old 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 figure 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 will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

From The Congo & Other Poems, 1914

The Master
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
 
A flying word from here and there
Had sown the name at which we sneered,
But soon the name was everywhere,
To be reviled and then revered:
A presence to be loved and feared,
We cannot hide it, or deny
That we, the gentlemen who jeered,
May be forgotten by and by.
 
He came when days were perilous
And hearts of men were sore beguiled;
And having made his note of us,
He pondered and was reconciled.
Was ever master yet so mild
As he, and so untamable?
We doubted, even when he smiled,
Not knowing what he knew so well.
 
He knew that undeceiving fate
Would shame us whom he served unsought;
He knew that he must wince and wait—
The jest of those for whom he fought;
He knew devoutly what he thought
Of us and of our ridicule;
He knew that we must all be taught
Like little children in a school.
 
We gave a glamour to the task
That he encountered and saw through,
But little of us did he ask,
And little did we ever do.
And what appears if we review
The season when we railed and chaffed?
It is the face of one who knew
That we were learning while we laughed.
 
The face that in our vision feels
Again the venom that we flung,
Transfigured to the world reveals
The vigilance to which we clung.
Shrewd, hallowed, harassed, and among
The mysteries that are untold,
The face we see was never young
Nor could it wholly have been old.
 
For he, to whom we had applied
Our shopman's test of age and worth,
Was elemental when he died,
As he was ancient at his birth:
The saddest among kings of earth,
Bowed with a galling crown, this man
Met rancor with a cryptic mirth,
Laconic—and Olympian.
 
The love, the grandeur, and the fame
Are bounded by the world alone;
The calm, the smouldering, and the flame
Of awful patience were his own:
With him they are forever flown
Past all our fond self-shadowings,
Wherewith we cumber the Unknown
As with inept, Icarian wings.
 
For we were not as other men:
'Twas ours to soar and his to see;
But we are coming down again,
And we shall come down pleasantly;
Nor shall we longer disagree
On what it is to be sublime,
But flourish in our perigee
And have one Titan at a time.

From The Town Down the River, 1910
 
O Captain! My Captain!
by Walt Whitman
 
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
 
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
 
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Abraham Lincoln
by William Cullen Bryant
 
Oh, slow to smite and swift to spare,
Gentle and merciful and just!
Who, in the fear of God, didst bear
The sword of power, a nation's trust!
 
In sorrow by thy bier we stand,
Amid the awe that hushes all,
And speak the anguish of a land
That shook with horror at thy fall.
 
Thy task is done; the bond are free:
We bear thee to an honored grave
Whose proudest monument shall be
The broken fetters of the slave.
 
Pure was thy life; its bloody close
Hath placed thee with the sons of light,
Among the noble host of those
Who perished in the cause of Right.

To Abraham Lincoln
by John J. Loud
 
Thou kindly, loving, whole-souled man,
Yet just, as well as tender;
Of wrong, the foe implacable,
Of the oppressed, defender;
So simply great, so grandly good,
So patient and laborious,
Loved brother of thy brother-man,
Thus wast thou, Lincoln, glorious!
 
Like Moses in old Israel's need,
With wisdom Heaven-directed,
Thou led'st thy people in the paths
By Providence selected.
On thy strong arm the Nation leaned
As on her son a mother
Leans, with full trust in his heart's love,
When she dare trust no other.
 
Best type of yeoman citizen,
Of plain men noblest sample,
A blessing to mankind is he,
Who, following thine example,
Is ever true as thou wast true,
Is honest, brave and tender;
Is the sworn foe of every wrong,
Of all oppressed, defender.

From the Springfield (Mass.) Daily Republican, Monday, February 12, 1906

Lincoln
by Vachel Lindsay
 
Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all,
That which is gendered in the wilderness
From lonely prairies and God's tenderness.
Imperial soul, star of a weedy stream,
Born where the ghosts of buffaloes still dream,
Whose spirit hoof-beats storm above his grave,
Above that breast of earth and prairie-fire—
Fire that freed the slave.
 
From General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems, 1913

Abraham Lincoln, Born Feb. 12, 1809
by Walt Whitman
 
To-day, from each and all, a breath of prayer—a pulse of thought,
To memory of Him—to birth of Him.

From Leaves of Grass, 1868

Through The Dim Pageant Of The Years
by Julia Ward Howe
 
Through the dim pageant of the years
A wondrous tracery appears:
A cabin of the western wild
Shelters in sleep a new-born child.
 
Nor nurse, nor parent dear can know
The way those infant feet must go;
And yet a nation's help and hope
Are sealed within that horoscope.
 
Beyond is toil for daily bread,
And thought, to noble issues led,
And courage, arming for the morn
For whose behest this man was born.
 
A man of homely, rustic ways,
Yet he achieves the forum's praise,
And soon earth's highest meed has won,
The seat and sway of Washington.
 
No throne of honors and delights;
Distrustful days and sleepless nights,
To struggle, suffer and aspire,
Like Israel, led by cloud and fire.
 
A treacherous shot, a sob of rest,
A martyr's palm upon his breast,
A welcome from the glorious seat
Where blameless souls of heroes meet;
 
And, thrilling through unmeasured days,
A song of gratitude and praise;
A cry that all the earth shall heed,
To God, who gave him for our need.
 
This Dust Was Once The Man
by Walt Whitman
 
This dust was once the Man,
Gentle, plain, just and resolute—under whose cautious hand,
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age,
Was saved the Union of These States.
 
From Leaves of Grass, 1868
 
Hush'd Be The Camps To-Day
by Walt Whitman
 
1
 
Hush'd be the camps to-day;
And, soldiers, let us drape our war-worn weapons;
And each with musing soul retire, to celebrate,
Our dear commander's death.
 
No more for him life's stormy conflicts;
Nor victory, nor defeat—no more time's dark events,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.
 
2
 
But sing, poet, in our name;
Sing of the love we bore him—because you, dweller in camps, know it truly.
 
As they invault the coffin there;
Sing—as they close the doors of earth upon him—one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.

From Leaves of Grass, 1868

 
When Lilacs Last In The Door-Yard Bloom'd
by Walt Whitman

1
 
When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
 
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
 
2
 
O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear'd! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!
 
3
 
In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash'd palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle……and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color'd blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.
 
4
 
In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
 
Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
 
Song of the bleeding throat!
Death's outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would'st surely die.)
 
5
 
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep'd from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards;
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.
 
6
 
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop'd flags, with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil'd women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour'd around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells' perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.
 
7
 
(Nor for you, for one, alone;
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring:
For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol a song for you, O sane and sacred death.
 
All over bouquets of roses,
O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies;
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes;
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you, and the coffins all of you, O death.)
 
8
 
O western orb, sailing the heaven!
Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since we walk'd,
As we walk'd up and down in the dark blue so mystic,
As we walk'd in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop'd from the sky low down, as if to my side, (while the other stars all look'd on;)
As we wander'd together the solemn night, (for something, I know not what, kept me from sleep;)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west, ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cold transparent night,
As I watch'd where you pass'd and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you, sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.
 
9
 
Sing on, there in the swamp!
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your call;
I hear—I come presently—I understand you;
But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain'd me;
The star, my departing comrade, holds and detains me.
 
10
 
O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?
 
Sea-winds, blown from east and west,
Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, till there on the prairies meeting:
These, and with these, and the breath of my chant,
I perfume the grave of him I love.
 
11
 
O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?
 
Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.
 
12
 
Lo! body and soul! this land!
Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio's shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover'd with grass and corn.
 
Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes;
The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill'd noon;
The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.
 
13
 
Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes;
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.
 
Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song;
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.
 
O liquid, and free, and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
You only I hear……yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;)
Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.
 
14
 
Now while I sat in the day, and look'd forth,
In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb'd winds, and the storms;)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they sail'd,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbb'd, and the cities pent—lo! then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear'd the cloud, appear'd the long black trail;
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.
 
15
 
Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.
 
And the singer so shy to the rest receiv'd me;
The gray-brown bird I know, receiv'd us comrades three;
And he sang what seem'd the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.
 
From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.
 
And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night;
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.
 
DEATH CAROL.
 
16
 
Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.
 
Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love—But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.
 
Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
 
Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.
 
Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.
 
From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.
 
The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil'd Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.
 
Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack'd cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!
 
17
 
To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night.
 
Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume;
And I with my comrades there in the night.
 
While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.
 
18
 
I saw askant the armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags;
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc'd with missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter'd and broken.
 
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war;
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer'd not;
The living remain'd and suffer'd—the mother suffer'd,
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer'd,
And the armies that remain'd suffer'd.
 
19
 
Passing the visions, passing the night;
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades' hands;
Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song of my soul,
(Victorious song, death's outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,)
Passing, I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves;
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring,
I cease from my song for thee;
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.
 
20
 
Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night;
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous'd in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe,
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor;
With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands…and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.
 
From Leaves of Grass, 1868

Lincoln, the Lover of Poetry and the Hater of Slavery

Lincoln saw the "true horrors of slavery" when he made a trip downriver to New Orleans in 1831, via flatboat. According to John Hanks, a friend of his, Lincoln said "By God, boys, let's get away from this. If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I'll hit it hard." According to Dale Carnegie, Lincoln harbored a feeling of "unconquerable" hatred for slavery and was deeply disturbed to have seen a comely mulatto girl being pinched and made to "trot up and down ... like a horse, to show how she moved." Like many poets, Lincoln had a heart easily moved by compassion and he hated to see any living thing suffer.

William Dean Howells wrote that Mr. Lincoln was "a diligent student of Shakespeare, to know whom is a liberal education."

General Egbert Viele wrote that when Secretary of the Treasury Chase, Secretary of War Stanton and President Lincoln visited him at Fort Monroe in May 1862, Lincoln read "page after page of Browning and whole cantos of Byron." According to another Lincoln biographer, Dale Carnegie, Lincoln would sometimes "lie on the floor and close his eyes and quote Shakespeare or Byron or Poe ..." [Carnegie offered Poe's "Annabel Lee" as an example].

While visiting Fort Monroe, Lincoln also recited from memory a section of Shakespeare's "King John" in memory of his dead son Willie:

And, father Cardinal, I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven:
If that be true, I shall see my boy again...

LeGrand B. Cannon recalled their conversation that night, which followed recitations and discussions of Hamlet and Macbeth: "I noticed that he was deeply moved, his voice trembled. Laying the book on the table, he said, 'Did you ever dream of a lost friend & feel that you were having a direct communion with that friend & yet a consciousness that it was not a reality?' My reply was, yes I think all may have had such an experience. He replied, 'So do I dream of my Boy Willie.' He was utterly overcome. His great frame shook & bowing down on the table he wept as only such a man in the breaking down of a great sorrow could weep."

According to David James Harkness and R. Gerald McMurtry, authors of Lincoln's Favorite Poets, "Lincoln loved poetry—especially Shakespeare and Robert Burns."

Lincoln's longtime law partner, William H. Herndon, said: "Beyond a limited acquaintance with Shakespeare, Byron, and Burns, Mr. Lincoln, comparatively speaking, had no knowledge of literature. He was familiar with the Bible, and now and then evinced a fancy for some poem or short sketch to which his attention was called by someone else, or which he happened to run across in his cursory reading of books or newspapers. He never in his life sat down and read a book through, and yet he could readily quote any number of passages from the few volumes whose pages he had hastily scanned. In addition to his well-known love for the poem 'Immortality' or 'Why should the Spirit of Mortal be Proud,' he always had a great fondness for Oliver Wendell Holmes' 'Last Leaf,' the fourth stanza of which beginning with the verse, 'The mossy marbles rest,' I have often heard him repeat."

The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
   In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
   On the tomb.

[Lincoln's favorite poems are reproduced in full, along with his own best poems in full, elsewhere on this page.]

Harkness and McMurtry point out Lincoln's similarities and poetic kinship to Robert Burns: "Born to poverty and obscurity, rising to heights of fame and popularity through long years of hard work, their lives present an interesting parallel. It is appropriate that Abe Lincoln should have found a kindred spirit in Bobby Burns, who spoke to his heart of the innermost yearnings, disappointments, and sorrows which both had experience through similar backgrounds."

His fellow attorney Milton Hay said Lincoln "...could quote Burns by the hour. I have been with him in that little office and heard him recite with the greatest admiration and zest, Burns' ballads and quaint things. That was one of the sources of his wisdom and wit. As years passed on he did not quote Burns so much. He had then taken up Shakespeare and become deeply interested in him, and yet I fancy...that a great deal of Abraham Lincoln is bottomed on Robert Burns and William Shakespeare. Sometimes I think I can see the traces of both men in his writings. When you consider the bringing up of Lincoln, what a writer he was! The Anglo-Saxon mother in her own land, centuries ago. The poets undoubtedly had their influence on Lincoln's style and probably on his mind." And of course Burns was a great spokesman for the underdog who wrote a poem of passionate empathy for a field mouse whose nest he destroyed accidentally while farming.

According to Harkness and McMurtry, "On the evening of a January 25, 1859, in Springfield the admirers of Robert Burns, with Lincoln prominent among them, celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the Scotsman's birth with a banquet in concert Hall, at which a large number of 'mysterious looking bottles' were freely circulated, according to the newspaper account. The following lyrics of Burns were sung; 'John Anderson, My Jo,' 'Green Grow the Rushes, O,' 'A Heart-Warm Fond Adieu' and 'Twas Even, the Dewy Fields Were Green.'"

When Lincoln was asked to toast Burns at the annual banquet of the capital's Burns Club in January 1865, he declined, saying: "I cannot frame a toast to Burns. I can say nothing worthy of his generous heart and transcending genius. Thinking of what he has said, I cannot say anything which seems worth saying." [I feel the same way about Lincoln, although I fully intend to toast his memory, here.]

According to Harkness and McMurtry "Burns probably came so close to some of Lincoln's own early experiences that the Railsplitter felt the Plowman was speaking directly to him. The closing verse of 'A Winter Night,' a poem we can imagine young Abe reading in the loneliness of an Indiana winter, expresses the kind of religion which appealed strongly to him:"

But deep this truth impressed my mind
Thro' all his works abroad,
The heart benevolent and kind.
The most resembles God.

And an excerpt from "another poem by Burns seems to sum up Lincoln's character perfectly. In 'Second Epistle to J. Lapraik,' Burns unconsciously expressed the personality of the Railsplitter":

The social, friendly, honest man,
Whate'er he be,
'Tis he fulfils great Nature's plan,
And none but he. 39

According to Lincoln scholar Douglas Wilson "one of the truly remarkable things about Lincoln as president is the extent to which he resorted to literature. Perhaps no president turned to English poetry while in office with the frequency that Lincoln did. He continued to recite his old favorites, such as 'O Why Should the Spirit of Mortal Be Proud?' or Holmes' 'The Last Leaf,' their melancholy and brooding concern for human mortality having been rendered even more apt by the somber circumstances of civil war. And he read poets such as Thomas Hood to invoke the lighter side. But he repeatedly returned to Shakespeare, whom he had probably first read as a boy in William Scott's Lessons in Elocution and for whom he had a lifelong fascination."

A Lincoln aide, John G. Nicolay, wrote: "The music of Lincoln's thought was always in the minor key. His favorite poems, such as 'Oh, Why Should the Spirit of Mortal be Proud?' and Holmes's 'Last Leaf' specially emphasize this mood; they are distinctively poems of sadness. So also among Shakespeare's plays he found his chief fascination in 'Macbeth,' full of the same undercurrent of the great problems of life and destiny with which his own slight attempts at versification are in harmony.'"

Noah Brooks was a journalist who authored a major biography of Abraham Lincoln based on close personal observation. He moved to Illinois in 1856, where he met and became friends with Lincoln. In 1862 Brooks moved to Washington to cover the Lincoln administration for the Sacramento Daily Union. He was one of the few people able to maintain close friendships with both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln. Brooks recounted giving Lincoln a volume of verse by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Lincoln opened the book and began to read aloud from it, but when he came to these lines in the poem "Lexington" ...

Green be the grass where her martyrs are lying!
Shroudless and tombless they sunk to their rest ...

... he became choked up and, handing the book back to Brooks, whispered, "You read it, I can't."

Brooks also recalled that President Lincoln sometimes rescued "waifs" of verse from the newspaper and memorized them. According to Brooks "it was noticeable that they were almost invariably referable to his tender sympathy with humanity its hopes and its sorrows. I recall one of these extracts, which he took out of his pocket one afternoon, as we were riding out to the Soldiers' Home. It began:

A weaver sat at his loom,
Flinging his shuttle fast,
And a threat that should wear till the hour of doom
Was added at every cast.

Noah Brooks noted that Lincoln's "love of music was something passionate, but his tastes were simple and uncultivated, his choice being old airs, songs, and ballads, among which the plaintive Scot songs were best liked. 'Annie Laurie,' 'Mary of Argyle,' and especially 'Auld Robin Gray,' never lost their charm for him; and all songs which had for their theme the rapid flight of time, decay, the recollections of early days, were sure to make a deep impression. The song which he liked best, above others, was one called 'Twenty Years Ago" — a simple air, the words to which are supposed to be uttered by a man who revisits the play-ground of his youth. He greatly desired to find music for his favorite poem, 'Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?' and said once, when told that the newspapers had credited him with the authorship of the piece, 'I should not care much for the reputation of having written that, but would be glad if I could compose music as fit to convey the sentiment as the words now do?'"

Lincoln's favorite play was Macbeth; he wrote: "I think nothing equals Macbeth. It is wonderful."

He preferred the soliloquy of King Claudius to Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, saying: "The former is merely a philosophical reflection on the question of life and death, without actual reference to a future judgment; while the latter is a solemn acknowledgment of inevitable punishment hereafter, for the infraction of divine law. Let any reflect on the moral tone of the two soliloquies, and there can be no mistaking the force and grandeur of the lesson taught by one, and the merely speculative consideration in the other, of an alternative for the ills that flesh is heir to." The lines that captivated him were:

In the corrupted currents of this world,
Offense's gilded hand may shove by justice;
And oft 'tis seen, the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above;
There is no shuffling; there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compelled,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence.

And yet Lincoln spoke repeatedly of mercy for and reconciliation with the slaveholders, once the Civil War was over. It seems he held himself to a higher standard then he held lesser men. Historian Richard J. Carwardine suggests: "Rather the experience of these shakespearean heads of state, whose ambition had won them 'the hollow crown', spoke to the condition of a man whose restless desire for the highest office in the Union had delivered a fearful, bone-wearying duty. His particular fascination with Claudius's soliloquy, beginning 'O, my offence is rank', in which the murderous king struggles honestly and despairingly with his conscience, and which Lincoln considered 'one of the finest touches of nature in the world', may well have had to do with his own (at times crushing) sense of responsibility, if not guilt, for the onset of the war." Artist Francis B. Carpenter recalled Lincoln saying: "It always struck me as one of the finest touches of nature in the world" then reciting himself, "O my offence is rank, it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon 't..."

These lines were written by Edgar Lee Masters in memory of Anne Rutledge, Lincoln's first and most passionate love: perhaps his only passionate love. But the first fix lines seem to capture the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, the father who preserved the American Union:
 
OUT of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
"With malice toward none, with charity for all."
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom

According to Lincoln scholar Roy P. Basler "It is the King's confession of guilt and of his inner struggle to pray and repent and to give himself up to justice...it is the preeminent speech of the King which removes him from the category of mere villain and reveals him as a man, in whom the moral sense is not obliterated." According to Basler "Lincoln had known in many of his overweening contemporaries, as well as in himself perhaps, the power of personal ambition to drive men down paths of virtue as well as vice. It is...easy to account for his repeated reading of the historical plays King John, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III, not merely for their portrayal of human character but also for their presentation of the horrors of civil war and the struggle for sovereignty in its ambiguous disguises as moral right and wrong."

According to Basler "Almost any play he happened to be reading could afford some application to his own condition at the particular moment..."

Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865. The previous day Union troops under the command of Major George Armstrong Custer had captured and burned three Confederate supply trains, leaving Lee's starving army without provisions. The closest Confederate resupply point was to the west, at Lynchburg. Lee may have believed that only the Union cavalry stood between his army and Lynchburg, but the Union XXIV Corps had traveled 30 miles in 21 hours to join up with the Union cavalry. Trying to break through Union lines, Confederate troops under General John B. Gordon attacked General Philip Sheridan's cavalry and managed to take the low ridge to the southwest of Appomattox Court House. But as they reached the crest they saw the Union XXIV Corps ahead with the Union V Corps to their right. Union V troops under General Edward O. C. Ord began to advance against Gordon's while at the same time Union II troops began moving against General James Longstreet's troops to the northeast. Lee's cavalry immediately withdrew and rode off towards Lynchburg. Colonel Charles Venable of Lee's staff asked Gordon for an assessment and he replied: "Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet's corps." Upon hearing this Lee remarked: "Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant [though] I would rather die a thousand deaths."

At their meeting the aristocratic Lee was dressed resplendently in an immaculate uniform with beaded gauntlets and a jewel-studded sword, while Grant wore a mud-spattered uniform, a government-issue flannel shirt, trousers tucked into muddy boots, no sword or sidearms. Only three silver stars on his shoulder straps proclaimed his rank: otherwise he was dressed like a private. Grant and Lincoln may have seemed like two pig sloppers compared to Lee's Julius Caesar, but they treated him far more honorably and compassionately than Brutus did the Roman tyrant.

It was the first time the men had seen each other in almost two decades. Grant remarked that he had met Lee once and had never forgotten his appearance. Lee remarked that he had tried to remember something about Grant but had never been able to remember anything about him.

Overcome with sadness, the two generals fell to reminiscing about the Mexican-American War, all-night poker games, and an amateur production of "Othello" in which Grant had played Desdemona! Grant later remarked that "Our conversation became so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting." Lee had to bring Grant's attention back to the matter at hand twice.

Grant's terms were generous because Lincoln had dictated them himself. Lee's men would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason. They were to be sent home and allowed to take their horses and mules with them. Lee's officers were allowed to keep their weapons. Grant even provided Lee with rations for his starving soldiers; Lee remarked that this would do much for reconciliation. As Lee rode away, Grant's men began cheering in celebration, but Grant ordered then to stop because "The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall."

That same afternoon Lincoln was sailing back to Washington on the River Queen. He read Shakespeare aloud to his friends for several hours. When he came to these lines from Macbeth

Duncan is in his grave;
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well;
Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing,
Can touch him further.

they made a "profound impression" on him. He "read them once, then paused, gazing with unseeing eyes through the port-hole of the ship. Presently, he read them aloud again."

Five days later, Lincoln was dead.

Did Lincoln blame his pride, to some degree, for the Civil War and all the suffering and death it produced? Did he have a premonition of his death, and perhaps find solace in the knowledge that soon nothing would touch him further?

His last instructions to his cabinet were words of "clemency and goodwill." He told them that they must now act "in the interest of peace." This was recorded in Abraham Lincoln: A History, written by his aides John M. Hay and John G. Nicolay. The same writers said that he had reported them and General Grant his having a dream in which he was on a "singular and indescribable vessel that was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore." He said that he had had this same dream before great events such as the victories at Antietam, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The cabinet was "greatly impressed" by this revelation, Grant less so.

Abraham Lincoln to bodyguard, William H. Crook, on April 14, 1865: On the day he was assassinated, Lincoln reportedly told his bodyguard: "Crook, do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it ... I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it."

One of his last acts -- a typical act for him -- was to pardon a soldier sentenced to be shot for desertion, saying, "Well, I think the boy can do us more good above ground than underground."

Senator James Harlan remembered taking a drive with the Lincolns only days before the president's assassination, and found him transformed. "His whole appearance, poise and bearing had marvelously changed. He was, in fact, transfigured. That indescribable sadness which had previously seemed to be an adamantean element in his very being, had been suddenly exchanged for an equally indescribable expression of serene joy as if conscious that the great purpose of his life had been achieved."

Edwin M. Stanton: "At the earliest moment yesterday, the President called a cabinet meeting, at which Gen. GRANT was present. He was more cheerful and happy than I had ever seen him. He rejoiced at the near prospect of a firm and durable peace at home and abroad, which manifested in a marked degree the soundness and honesty of his disposition, and the tender and forgiving spirit that so eminently distinguished him."

On the day of his death, according to his wife, Abraham Lincoln was the happiest she had seen him in years. In fact, he was so happy that she became troubled, remembering that the last time he had been so happy was just before their son died. It was Good Friday, the day of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. How odd that the height of his glory came on Palm Sunday and his death on Good Friday!

"The last day he lived was the happiest of his life."
Mary Todd Lincoln to Rev. Noyes W. Miner. Source: The Later Life and Religious Sentiments of Abraham Lincoln, a lecture by Rev. J.A. Reed. (Text in July 1873 edition of Scribner's Monthly)

Did Lincoln foresee his own death, just a few days before it happened? The extraordinary details are recorded in Recollections of Abraham Lincoln by Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln's friend and self-appointed bodyguard. According to Lamon, on April 11, Lincoln told Lamon that the following dream had "strangely annoyed" him: About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers 'The President' was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin!' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream.

After President Lincoln's assassination his casket was, in fact, put on a platform in the East room where soldiers were stationed to act as guards. Dreams are far from meaningless fantasy or random neurological discharge. They are direct communications from the source of being which guide us, grow us, enrich us, and on sad occasion, forewarn us of events destined to change the world.

Even after he was shot, there was still a smile on his lips. As he died his breathing grew quieter, his face more calm. After he died, Edwin M. Staton said rightly and prophetically, "Now he belongs to the ages." But some say he said "Now he belongs to the angels," and perhaps both versions are true.

According to John Hay "A look of unspeakable peace came over his worn features."

Little Tad Lincoln was overcome and inconsolable at the loss of his best friend and playfellow. "Do you think, sir, that my father has gone to heaven?" he asked of a visitor. "I have not a doubt of it," replied the gentleman. "Then I am glad he has gone there," said Tad in a tearful voice, "for he was never happy after he came here. This was not a good place for him!"

According to Elizabeth Keckley, a black woman who served the Lincoln household, little Tad Lincoln admonished his mother: "Don't cry, Mamma; I cannot sleep if you cry! Papa was good, and he has gone to heaven. He is happy there. He is with God and brother Willie. Don't cry, Mamma, or I will cry too."

If you're interested in "things mysterious," you may be interested in these other Mysterious Ways pages:

There is no "Hell" in the Bible
A Direct Experience with Universal Love
Two Tales of the Night Sky
Genie-Angels
Darkness
Michael, Wonderful and Glorious
The Poisonous Tomato
Of Mother Teresa, Angels and the Poorest of the Poor
Thy Will Be Done (Iron Lung)
Did Jesus Walk on the Water?
Mysterious Ways Index

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