Tomorrow is celebrated in the United States as Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday—or rather, it was in the past. In 1971, a uniform Monday holiday, often called President’s Day, centralized what had been in the past dual, separate, celebrations of Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s.
Washington (as poet Phillis Wheatley’s motto for him said) was first in war and first in peace, and we owe him a great debt for being the rare revolutionary leader that did not try to crown his success with dictatorship. But Lincoln’s achievements are every bit Washington’s equal; and his central achievement, a US government that no longer enforced chattel slavery throughout the country has in recent decades been somewhat obscured for complex reasons.
But here at the Parlando Project, where we combine music with words, Lincoln gets extra props for being as great an artist with words as any US Chief Executive. While taking the various roads that lead to this piece I read his famous Gettysburg Address, or rather refreshed myself with the words in manuscript form, for as a child I had memorized it.
At this site it’s possible to trace the slight revisions that Lincoln applied draft by draft to polish this concise statement of dedication. And the same site linked to another site that let me read (for the first time) Edward Everett’s main speech at the same Gettysburg dedication.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of how the two speeches that day contrasted. It’s no legend. Go ahead, read as much of Everett’s speech as you can. It’s the kind of grand utterance that could have caused the 19th Century to invent TLDNR 140 years sooner.
So, Lincoln could fashion a memorable, resonant phrase and express complex things concisely. That’s the kind of literary talent that leads one to ask if he wrote poetry. He did, but as far as we know, there’s not very much of it beyond some short light verse. His poetic works consist of an attributed poem with a narrator speaking of suicide, and a three-part poem recalling his hometown.
It’s from the first part of the later Lincoln poem that I created today’s piece, “My Childhood Home I See Again.” It was published anonymously through the efforts of a friend of his in 1847. Lincoln was in his troubled 30s when his longer poems were written, and he seems to have been suffering from depression, the depth and length of which is subject of much discussion among historical scholars.
The parts I used from “My Childhood Home I See Again” tell much the same story as English poet Thomas Hardy’s “The Self Unseeing,” but Lincoln’s poem is more melancholy, even if he tries to make some pretense of it being only wistful. One could also compare it to my own piece “Homeopathic Hometown.”