Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Biography: A Poem about Abraham Lincoln

At a used book sale a  few weeks ago, one of the items I picked up was Songs After Lincoln, a book by Paul Horgan, an author of whom I knew nothing. (copyright 1960, 1965, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

I still know little of him, but I have learned that he was a prolific author and historian, who won not one, but two Pulitzer Prizes in history, both for books about New Mexico history.  Here is a link to his wikipedia page, but for those looking for a more reliable source, this short biography should work.

This versatile writer wrote this particular volume "as a commemorative observance of an event that touched all Americans one hundred years ago," according to the dust jacket, which was referring to President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Horgan, it continues, "returns to his earliest forms of expression as an author" in this book that was the "fruit of a life-long interest in the Civil War and its greatest hero."

I may return to this book from time-to-time with some of his writings, but tonight I will republish the one he entitled "Biography" from pages 59 and 60 of this volume.

Did you ramble in the wood, 
Abe, my boy?
I got lost within the wood, 
But there I listened as I stood
And I learned everything I could, 
Said Abe, the boy. 

Did you come round the river's bend,
Young Abraham?
I saw round the river's bend, 
I saw what we'd have to fend,
And how to steer until the end,
Said Abraham

Did you gaze at books, and wonder, 
As a hired man?
Any book seemed all of wonder,
Strong enough to set asunder
This from that, almost like thunder,
Said the hired man.

Did you measure our own land,
Mr Surveyor?
I legged my chains across the land,
I studied late on what I spanned,
And so discovered where I'd stand,
Said the surveyor.

Did you seek the word of law,
Mr. Attorney?
I saw nature in the law,
And fate weighed heavy by a straw,
And it was my own life I saw,
Said the attorney.

Did you ponder on the War,
I never could escape the War
I knew what we were fighting for,
It beat within my very core,
Said the commander-in-chief.

Did you know what had to come,
Mr. President?
I often dreamed of what might come,
But not where it was coming from,
I knew the numbers, not the sum,
Said the President.

I admit I'm curious as to why there are not verses on Mary Todd (or Anne Rutledge) or emancipation, and this work will never be mistaken for Shakespeare, but I still found it an interesting way to summarize Lincoln's life in verse.

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