I have been writing about my grandmother’s little book of poetry, Late Flowers, written when she was in her 70’s. The poem I want to quote today is her tribute to Abraham Lincoln. Having lived overseas for so long I had kind of forgotten my U.S. history or maybe my history lessons slipped to the back of the queue in my brain. Whatever, now being back in the U.S. on a more permanent basis I am refreshing and renewing my interest in matters historical on this side of the Atlantic. I recently read the book Manhunt, the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killers, by James L. Swanson. One thing that struck me about the book was the fervor with which people reacted to the Assassination. Abraham Lincoln is an icononic figure in U.S. history but in part it was the fact that he was assassinated that elevated him to such a prominent position. Now I find a poem written by my grandmother long after Lincoln’s time. My grandmother was only 2 years old when John Wilkes Booth fired that shot. But in less than 20 years, in 1882, she married a man who had served his country faithfully in the U.S. Civil War and would have been a Lincoln supporter. So in that way, by marriage, she was certainly a woman of that era. Here is her tribute, written in the late 1930’s.
Of the soil a son, yet apart from man he stood,
Although to hew the wood and plow the field
His hands he trained. His neighbours saw in him
Naught but the country rustic akin to them.
They did not see behind that thoughtful brow
The soul of beauty and the brain of power,
Which as the slow years wound along their way
Urged him to read and study, reaching ever
To those high realms of which the common soul
Knows not, nor cares. Then came the time of stress.
The man arose and into those brown hands
Received the Nation’s cares. Prepared was he
By years of toil and grief and by the greatness of his soul
For this vast trust, and through the darkest time
The Nation e’er has seen, he strode upon his way
Ever faithful to his duty, striking the shackles
From slavery’s bleeding limbs; turning ever
At call of human misery to give his aid.
In all the earth before was ever such a man?
He had the understanding of the warrior
Who conquers all upon the battlefield;
He had the wisdom of the statesman who can guide
The Ship of State through perils of the storm,
And over and above his courage and his lore
He had the love and sympathy for all mankind
Which, stronger than his other gifts, will ever
Bind our souls to him in love and veneration.
His work is done. We know him now and lay
Upon his brow the hero’s laurel. Ever his life,
So simple and so great, shall be to us a call
To do and dare and suffer for the right.