THE MANY-MANSIONED HOUSE
AND OTHER POEMS


By
EDWARD WILLIAM THOMSON




 

FATHER ABRAHAM LINCOLN



My private shrine.  The Gettysburg Address

Framed in with all authentic photographs
Of him from whom the New Religion flows.

Homely?  That’s it.  A perfect homeliness.
Homely as Home itself that countenance

5

Benign, immortal sweet, his very soul,
The steadfast, common, great American.

It is a gladness in my aging heart
These eyes three times beheld himself alive,
Ungainly, jointed loose, rail-fence-like, queer

10

In garb that hung with scarecrow shapelessness—
Absolute figure of The States half-made,
Turning from toil and joke to sacred war.


I


MY heart has smiles and tears, remembering how
The boy, fourteen, round-cheeked and downy-lipped,

15

With Philadelphia cheese-cake freshly bit,
Halted to stare on marbled Chestnut Street;
He could not gulp the richness in his maw,
Because that black-frock-coated countryman
Of bulged umbrella, rusty stovepipe hat,

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Five yards ahead, and coming rapidly,
Could be none other than the President,
From caricatures familiar as the day.

A sudden twinkle lit his downcast eyes,
Marking the cheese-cake and the staring boy;

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Tickled to note the checked gastronomy, [Page 39]
Passing, he asked, “Good, sonny?” in a tone
Applausive more than questioning, full of fun,
Yet half-embracive, as your mother’s voice,
And smiled so comrade-like the wondering lad

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Glowed with a sense of being chosen chum
To Father Abraham Lincoln, President.

Such was the miracle his spirit wrought
In millions while he lived.  And still it lives.

He stalked along, unguarded, all alone,

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That central soul of unremitting war,
A common man level with common Man.
The heart-warmed, wondering boy stared after him,
And wonders yet to-day on how it chanced
The mighty, well-loved, martyr President

40

Went rambling on unknown in broadest day
On crowded street, as if by nimbus hid
From all except the cheese-caked worshipper
He sonnied, smiled on, joked at fatherly.


II

That night the streets of Philadelphia thronged;
45

No end of faces; one great human cross,
As far each way as lamp-post boys could see,
Packed Ninth and Chestnut, waiting Father Abe;
The Continental’s balcony on high
Glowed Stars and Stripes, with crape for all the dead

50

“We cannot dedicate, nor consecrate.”

On chime of eight precise, gaunt, bare of head,
They saw his tallness in the balcony-flare,
And straightway all the murmurous street grew still,
Till silence absolute as death befell.

55


And in that perfect silence one clear voice
Inspired began, from out the multitude, [Page 40]
The song of all the songs of all the war,
Simple, ecstatic, sacrificial, strong—
We’re coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand

60
            more”—

And neighboring voices took the long refrain
While some more distant raised the opening words,
Till to and fro and far and near at once,
Never in chorus, chanting as by groups,
Here ending, there beginning, some halfway,

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All sang at once, and all renewing all
In pledge and passion of the mighty song,
Their different words and clashing cadences
Wondrously merging in a sound supreme,
As if the inmost meaning of the hymn

70

Harmonious rolled in one unending vow
While all the singers gazed on Lincoln’s face.

Hands gripping balcony-rail, he stooped and saw
And listened motionless, with such a look
The boy upon the lamp-post clearly knew

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“The heavens were opened unto him,”
“The spirit of God descending like a dove”—
Until the mystery of the general soul
Wrought to unwonted sense of unison
Moved all to silence for the homely words

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Of Father Abraham Lincoln to his kind—
Words clear as Light itself, so plain—so plain
None deemed him other than their fellow man.


III


Once more.  A boy in blue at sixteen years,
Mid groups of blue along the crazy road

85

Of corduroy astretch from City Point,
Toward yonder spire in fatal Petersburg,
Beyond what trenches, rifle-pits, and forts,
What woeful far-front grave-mounds sunken down
To puddles over pickets shot on post— [Page 41]

90

What cemeteries shingle-marked with names
Of companies and regiments and corps
Of mouldering bones and rags of blue and gray,
And belts and buttons, rain and wind exposed—
Mired army wagons—forms of swollen mules—

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Springfields and Enfields, broken-stocked, stuck up
Or strown, all rusting—parked artillery—
Brush shelter stables—lines and lines of huts,
Tent-covered winter quarters, sticks and mud
For chimneys to the many thousand smokes

100

Whose dropping cinders black-rimmed million holes
Through veteran canvas ludicrously patched—
Squares of parade all mud—and mud, and mud,
With mingled grass and chips and refuse cans
Strown myriad far about the plain of war,

105

Whose scrub-oak roots for scanty fires were grubbed,
And one sole house, and never fence remained
Where fifty leagues of corn-land smiled before.

Belated March—a lowering, rainless day
With glints of shine; the veteran tents of Meade

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Gave forth their veteran boys in crowds of blue,
Infantry, cavalry, gunners, engineers,
Easterner, Westerner, Yankee, Irish, “Dutch,”
Canuck, all sorts and sizes, frowsed, unkempt,
Unwashed, half-smoked, profane exceedingly,

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Moody or jokeful, formidable, free
From fear of colonels as of corporals,
Each volunteer the child of his own whim,
And every man heart-sworn American
Trudging the mud to view the cavalcade

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Of Father Abraham Lincoln to The Front.

He, Chief Commander of all Union hosts,
Of more than thrice three hundred thousand more,
Rode half a horseneck first, since Grant on right
And Meade on left kept reining back their bays;

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Full uniformed were they and all their train, [Page 42]
Sheridan, Humphreys, Warren, Hazen, Kautz,
Barlow, McLaughlen, Ord, and thirty more,
Blazing for once in feathers and in gold.
Old Abe, all black, bestrode the famous steed,

130

Grant’s pacing black—and sure since war began
No host of war had such Commander seen!

Loose-reined he let the steady pacer walk;
Those rail-like legs, that forked the saddle, thrust
Prodigious spattered boots anear the mud,

135

Preposterous his parted coat-tails hung,
In negligence his lounging body stooped,
Tipping the antic-solemn stovepipe hat;
It seemed some old-time circuit preacher turned
From Grant to Meade and back again to Grant,

140

Attentive, questioning, pondering, deep concerned—
The common Civil Power directing War.

He, travesty of every point of horsemanship,
They, so bedizened, riding soldier stern—
The contrast past all telling comical—

145

And Father Abraham wholly unaware!

Too much by far for soldier gravity—
A breeze of laughter travelling as he passed,
Rose sudden to a gale that stormed his ear.

The President turned and gazed and understood

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All in one moment, slightly shook his head,
Not warningly, but with a cheerful glee,
And sympathy and love, as if he spoke:
“You scalawags, you scamps, but have your fun!”
Pushed up the stovepipe hat, and all around

155

Bestowed his warming, right paternal smile,
As if his soul embraced us all at once.

Then strangely fell all laughter.  Some men choked,
And some grew inarticulate with tears; [Page 43]
A thousand veteran children thrilled as one,

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And not a man of all the throng knew why;
Some called his name, some blessed his holy heart
And then, inspired with pentecostal tongues,
We cheered so wildly for Old Father Abe
That all the bearded generals flamed in joy!

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What was the miracle?  His miracle.
Was Father Abraham just a son of Man,
As Jesus seemed to common Nazarenes?

Shall Father Abraham Lincoln yet prevail,
And his Republic come to stay at last?

170

Kind Age, unenvious Youth, democracy,
None lower than the first in comradeship,
However differing in mental force,
The higher intellect set free to Serve,
All undistracted by the woeful need

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To grab or pander lest its children want;
Old trivial gewgaws of the peacock past
Smiled to the nothingness of desuetude,
With strutful Rank, with pinchbeck Pageantry,
With apish separative-cant of Class,

180

With inhumane conventions, all designed
To sanctify the immemorial robbery
Of Man by men; with mockful mummeries,
Called Law, to save the one perennial Wrong—
That fundamental social crime which fate

185

All babes alike to Inequality,
And so condemns the many million minds
(That might, with happier nurture, finely serve)
To share, through life, the harmful hates or scorns
The accursed System breeds, which still most hurts

190

The few who fancy it their benefit,
Shutting them lifelong from the happiness
Of such close sympathy with all their kind
As feels the universal God, or Soul,
Alive to love in every human heart. [Page 44]

195


Was it for this our Mother’s sons were slain?
Shall Father Abraham not prevail again?

We who are marching to the small-flagged graves
We earned by fight to free our fathers’ slaves,
We who by Lincoln’s hero soul were sworn,

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We go more sadly toward our earthly bourne
To join our comrade host of long ago,
Since, oh so clearly, do our old hearts know
We shall not witness what we longed to see—
Our own dear children minded to be free.

205


Why let democracy be flouted down?
Why let your money-mongers more renown
Their golden idol than the Common Weal,
Flaunting the gains of liberty-to-steal,
Fouling the promise of the heights we trod

210

With Freedom’s sacrifice to Lincoln’s God?

Was it for this he wept his children slain?
Or shall our Father’s spirit rise again? [Page 45]