Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
by VACHEL LINDSAY (1879-1931)
(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
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 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 was born in a house located at 603 South Fifth Street, Springfield, Illinois. The home had once belonged to Clark M. Smith and his wife, Ann, who was the younger sister of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary. Young Vachel would no doubt have been very inspired with the tales of Lincoln visiting the home that he grew up in. In his biography of Lindsay, Edgar Lee Master relates that the poet grew up surrounded by Civil War veterans who debated on anything related to the Civil War and Lincoln endlessly. Lindsay wrote in a preface to his “Collected Poems” that as a boy, he knew that bringing up Abraham Lincoln would invariably produce controversy and called the phenomenon “a profound volcano.”