Sullen, sunken, grayish eyes—
Loss of mother, frontier skies;
Books at end of oxen row,
Ax out straight, and toe-to-toe;
Failed at shop—what’s lent was spent,
Fifteen years for every cent;
Three for law, then Springfield bride,
In-laws: Country ways despised;
Four sons, never felt the belt—
No “parental tyranny” dealt;
Uncouth, yes; but truly “larn’d”,
Clients met with latest yarn,
Orange seeds sprout from dusty floor,
Cases won yet more and more.
Then spread of slavery caught your ire.
Ran again—no more retired,
Not to fix the South one whit:
Hopes of natural death were quit;
Tall, lean, keen–faced short and mean:
Wired debates made national scene;
Three-hour stands across the state,
Bulldog slurs with racist bait;
Lost the lesser, won the greater—
Without the South, inaugurator;
Sumter, Bull Run, ninety days—
Broken promise, generals’ haze;
Lee, then Lee—ten thousands fall;
At Gettysburg, the worst of all:
Hundred-seventy thousand met;
By the Fourth, just one-third left.
Day by day to Washington
Heard in person, one-by-one;
Loss of sleep, and loss of son,
Wife is broken; comfort—none.
O sullen, sunken, grayish eyes,
With silk black hat and silk black tie,
Beneath November’s graying skies,
With horses still unburied by:
With just two leaves, two minutes read,
Of duty due and hallowed dead,—
O prophet of the Declaration,
Pledging to preserve the nation,
Standing by your proclamation:
I ask you, who to Whitman captain,
You, who told the blood of black men
Now requited on the white man,
Who spoke of necessary woes,
Which came upon opposing foes,
Did you, who lasted through the war,
Yet shot at last from darkened door
And brought to die across the street—
In victory’s cry, again defeat—
I ask you, sullen, sunken man,
In all your sojourn, Abraham,
In all your thinking, common man,
Believing in God’s sov’reign plan,
Before the fated, comic play,
When shot, you fell on Good Friday,
Did you find peace beneath God’s tree?
Did you see grace—“forever free”?
“Believe in God, believe in Me”—
For sin-slaved souls, true liberty.
I ask you with my saddened eyes,
Did you believe in Jesus Christ?
Text: Thoughts after reading Russell Freedman, Lincoln: A Photobiography (New York: Clarion Books, 1987).