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Boyhood Memorial, Indiana
© Abraham Lincoln Online
Poetry Written by Abraham LincolnSpringfield, Illinois
In the spring of 1846 Abraham Lincoln sent some poetry to his friend Andrew Johnston, and on September 6 enclosed additional stanzas with his letter. At Lincoln's request, Johnston published portions of the poetry anonymously in the Quincy, Illinois Whig on May 5, 1847.
Lincoln offered Johnston an explanation of the first poem ("My Childhood Home I See Again"), saying he had visited his boyhood neighborhood in southern Indiana in the fall of 1844 while campaigning for presidential hopeful Henry Clay. He commented that the region was "as unpoetical as any spot of the earth," but it brought back memories of loved ones such as his mother and sister who lay buried there.
He made Matthew Gentry the subject of Part II, telling Johnston: "He is three years older than I, and when we were boys we went to school together. He was rather a bright lad, and the son of the rich man of our poor neighborhood. At the age of nineteen he unaccountably became furiously mad, from which condition he gradually settled down into harmless insanity. When, as I told you in my other letter I visited my old home in the fall of 1844, I found him still lingering in this wretched condition. In my poetizing mood I could not forget the impression his case made upon me."
My Childhood Home I See Again[I]
My childhood's home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it too.
O Memory! thou midway world
'Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,
And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.
As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away;
As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar--
So memory will hallow all
We've known, but know no more.
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.
I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.
But here's an object more of dread
Than ought the grave contains--
A human form with reason fled,
While wretched life remains.
Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,
A fortune-favored child--
Now locked for aye, in mental night,
A haggard mad-man wild.
Poor Matthew! I have ne'er forgot,
When first, with maddened will,
Yourself you maimed, your father fought,
And mother strove to kill;
When terror spread, and neighbors ran,
Your dange'rous strength to bind;
And soon, a howling crazy man
Your limbs were fast confined.
How then you strove and shrieked aloud,
Your bones and sinews bared;
And fiendish on the gazing crowd,
With burning eye-balls glared--
And begged, and swore, and wept and prayed
With maniac laught[ter?] joined--
How fearful were those signs displayed
By pangs that killed thy mind!
And when at length, tho' drear and long,
Time smoothed thy fiercer woes,
How plaintively thy mournful song
Upon the still night rose.
I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed,
Far distant, sweet, and lone--
The funeral dirge, it ever seemed
Of reason dead and gone.
To drink it's strains, I've stole away,
All stealthily and still,
Ere yet the rising God of day
Had streaked the Eastern hill.
Air held his breath; trees, with the spell,
Seemed sorrowing angels round,
Whose swelling tears in dew-drops fell
Upon the listening ground.
But this is past; and nought remains,
That raised thee o'er the brute.
Thy piercing shrieks, and soothing strains,
Are like, forever mute.
Now fare thee well--more thou the cause,
Than subject now of woe.
All mental pangs, by time's kind laws,
Hast lost the power to know.
O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince,
That keepst the world in fear;
Why dost thos tear more blest ones hence,
And leave him ling'ring here?
The Bear HuntA wild-bear chace, didst never see?
Then hast thou lived in vain.
Thy richest bump of glorious glee,
Lies desert in thy brain.
When first my father settled here,
'Twas then the frontier line:
The panther's scream, filled night with fear
And bears preyed on the swine.
But wo for Bruin's short lived fun,
When rose the squealing cry;
Now man and horse, with dog and gun,
For vengeance, at him fly.
A sound of danger strikes his ear;
He gives the breeze a snuff;
Away he bounds, with little fear,
And seeks the tangled rough.
On press his foes, and reach the ground,
Where's left his half munched meal;
The dogs, in circles, scent around,
And find his fresh made trail.
With instant cry, away they dash,
And men as fast pursue;
O'er logs they leap, through water splash,
And shout the brisk halloo.
Now to elude the eager pack,
Bear shuns the open ground;
Th[r]ough matted vines, he shapes his track
And runs it, round and round.
The tall fleet cur, with deep-mouthed voice,
Now speeds him, as the wind;
While half-grown pup, and short-legged fice,
Are yelping far behind.
And fresh recruits are dropping in
To join the merry corps:
With yelp and yell,--a mingled din--
The woods are in a roar.
And round, and round the chace now goes,
The world's alive with fun;
Nick Carter's horse, his rider throws,
And more, Hill drops his gun.
Now sorely pressed, bear glances back,
And lolls his tired tongue;
When as, to force him from his track,
An ambush on him sprung.
Across the glade he sweeps for flight,
And fully is in view.
The dogs, new-fired, by the sight,
Their cry, and speed, renew.
The foremost ones, now reach his rear,
He turns, they dash away;
And circling now, the wrathful bear,
They have him full at bay.
At top of speed, the horse-men come,
All screaming in a row,
"Whoop! Take him Tiger. Seize him Drum."
Bang,--bang--the rifles go.
And furious now, the dogs he tears,
And crushes in his ire,
Wheels right and left, and upward rears,
With eyes of burning fire.
But leaden death is at his heart,
Vain all the strength he plies.
And, spouting blood from every part,
He reels, and sinks, and dies.
And now a dinsome clamor rose,
'Bout who should have his skin;
Who first draws blood, each hunter knows,
This prize must always win.
But who did this, and how to trace
What's true from what's a lie,
Like lawyers, in a murder case
They stoutly argufy.
Aforesaid fice, of blustering mood,
Behind, and quite forgot,
Just now emerging from the wood,
Arrives upon the spot.
With grinning teeth, and up-turned hair--
Brim full of spunk and wrath,
He growls, and seizes on dead bear,
And shakes for life and death.
And swells as if his skin would tear,
And growls and shakes again;
And swears, as plain as dog can swear,
That he has won the skin.
Conceited whelp! we laugh at thee--
Nor mind, that now a few
Of pompous, two-legged dogs there be,
Conceited quite as you.
Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.
Lincoln's Favorite Poem
Poetry and American Memory (Atlantic Monthly)
Poems Written About Lincoln
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