Poetic Spotlight: Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, both here and at the dVerse Poetry Pub, I showcased the tragic case of poet Sara Teasdale, and shared a few words on some of the darker aspects that often walk hand-in-hand with the creative mind. Suicide, depression…these are very real, very painful and confusing aspects of the human experience that man has faced since we first stepped upon the soil. And the real fact of these things is that it is never just one person affected.

When Teasdale died, it was only two years after another poet’s life ended. This poet–this week’s spotlight–was a friend, and a would-be lover of Teasdale in earlier years. Vachel Lindsay, a performance artist once heralded as the “Prairie Troubadour,” was the more famous of the pair in his day–the father of modern “singing” poetry (a style of poetry in which verses are meant to be sung or chanted, and as such connected to the more popular beat and spoken-word styles), and an American staple associated with other, more well-remembered greats such as Yeats and Langston Hughes. Today, however, he has by-and-large slipped into obscurity.

Below, however, follows one of his works: “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.”

Like Teasdale, he was a victim of his own hand, committing suicide in the grips of a deep depression, in the wake of financial and health-related woes. He left a wife and two children behind when he did.

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

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 of 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:

A league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,

Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that things 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


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