A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, March 12, 2010

Poem of the Day: Vachel Lindsay

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 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 
Makes 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? 
--Vachel Lindsay

Best known now, if known at all, for the bumptiousness of "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven" and the naive boomlay of "The Congo," Lindsay had some serious admirers in his time, including W.B. Yeats. His ambition ultimately exceeded his talent, perhaps, but there's a genuine voice at work in his poems, especially this one about Lincoln's restless ghost, stalking the streets as the horror of World War I begins. Lincolnolatry at its purest. 


Cudo said...

This poem reminds me of Lionel Johnsons BY THE STATUE OF KING CHARLES AT CHARING CROSS. Do you think it may be a kind of republican reply to Johnson?

Charles Matthews said...

I guess I see the resemblance, but I doubt it's a reply. I think Lindsay's point is that Lincoln's business has been left unfinished, as manifested by the outbreak of the World War.