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Abraham Lincoln's One Hundred and Ninety-Ninth Birthday I

Poetry by the 16th President of the United States of America.

In the fall of 1844, Lincoln visited the region of Indiana (Perry & Spencer counties) where he had lived as a boy, and where his mother & sister were buried. Afterwards, inspired by his visit, he wrote several cantos (two, at least, in one poem). "My Childhood-Home I See Again" is thought to have been written in February 1845; "The Bear Hunt", in September 1846. Both were first published May 5, 1847, in a Quincy, Illinois, periodical.

My Childhood-Home I See Again

[First Canto]

My childhood-home I see again,
   And gladden with the view;
And still as mem'ries crowd my brain,
   There's sadness in it too.

O memory! thou mid-way world
   'Twixt Earth and Paradise,
Where things decayed, and loved ones lost
   In dreamy shadows rise.

And freed from all that's gross or vile,
   Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle,
   All bathed in liquid light.

As distant mountains please the eye,
   When twilight chases day—
As bugle-tones, that, passing by,
   In distance die away—

As leaving some grand water-fall
   We ling'ring, list it's roar,
So memory will hallow all
   We've known, but know no more.

Now twenty years have passed away,
   Since here I bid farewell
To woods, and fields, and scenes of play
   And school-mates loved so well.

Where many were, how few remain
   Of old familiar things!
But seeing these 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 grey,
   And half of all are dead.

I hear the lone 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 (companions of the dead)
   I'm living in the tombs.

[Second Canto]

And 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;

And terror spread, and neighbours ran,
   Your dang'rous strength to bind;
And soon a howling crazy man,
   Your limbs were fast confined.

How then you writhed and shrieked aloud,
   Your bones and sinnews bared;
And fiendish on the gaping crowd,
   With burning eye-balls glared.

And begged, and swore, and wept, and prayed,
   With maniac laughter joined—
How fearful are the signs displayed,
   By pangs that kill the mind!

And when at length, tho' drear and long,
   Time soothed your fiercer woes—
How plaintively your 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 silently and still,
Ere yet the rising god of day
   Had streaked the Eastern hill.

Air held his breath; the trees all still
   Seemed sorr'wing angels round.
Their swelling tears in dew-drops fell
   Upon the list'ning ground.

But this is past, and nought remains
   That raised you o'er the brute.
Your mad'ning shrieks and soothing strains
   Are like forever mute.

Now fare thee well: more thou the cause
   Than subject now of woe.
All mental pangs, but time's kind laws,
   Hast lost the power to know.

And now away to seek some scene
   Less painful than the last—
With less of horror mingled in
   The present and the past.

The very spot where grew the bread
   That formed my bones, I see.
How strange, old field, on thee to tread,
   And feel I'm part of thee!

[Source.]

The Bear Hunt

[Third Canto]

A 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 woe 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;
Through 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 not a few
Of pompous, two-legged dogs there be,
   Conceited quite as you.

[Source.]

Some commentators believe the last three stanzas of "My Childhood-Home I See Again" were actually the beginning of another canto; in that case, either it was never finished or the rest of it has been lost.

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Tue. 02/12/08 01:57:14 PM
Categorized as Historical & Literary.

   
         
         

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