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Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight


(In Springfield, Illinois)

              1It is portentous, and a thing of state
              2That here at midnight, in our little town
              3A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
              4Near the old court-house pacing up and down.

              5Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
              6He lingers where his children used to play,
              7Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
              8He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

              9A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
            10A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
            11Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
            12The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

            13He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
            14He is among us: -- as in times before!
            15And we who toss and lie awake for long
            16Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

            17His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
            18Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
            19Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
            20Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

            21The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
            22He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
            23He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
            24The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

            25He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
            26Shall come; -- the shining hope of Europe free;
            27The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth,
            28Bringing long peace to Cornwall, Alp and Sea.

            29It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
            30That all his hours of travail here for men
            31Seem yet in vain.  And who will bring white peace
            32That he may sleep upon his hill again?

Notes

1] Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), 16th president of the United States, assassinated in Ford's Theatre, Washington, D.C., at the close of the American Civil War. His home town, and Lindsay's, was Springfield, the state capital of Illinois.

4] the old court-house: the old state capitol, completed in 1853. Lincoln in 1858 gave his "House Divided" speech, on the chaotic effects of having a government both for and against slavery. A limestone edifice, it now stands near the downtown mall.

5] Lincoln's home, erected in 1839 and purchased by him in 1844, stands at 8th and Jackson and is open to the public.

13] his hillside: the Lincoln monument, built over his grave, stands in Oak Ridge cemetery. The granite obelisk and mausoleum were finished in 1874, obtained by the state in 1895, and restored by it in 1899-1901.

22] dreadnoughts: battleships.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Vachel Lindsay, The Daniel Jazz and Other Poems (London: G. Bell, 1920): 66-68. PS 3523 I58D3 Robarts Library. Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1923): 53-54. PS 3523 I58A17 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 21 September 1914
Publication date note: Independent (Sept. 21, 1914)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/21

Composition date: 1914
Rhyme: abcb


Other poems by Vachel Lindsay