Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, YOUNG LINCOLN, by EDWIN MARKHAM

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

YOUNG LINCOLN, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Men saw no portents on that winter night
Last Line: To bend the law to let his mercy out.
Variant Title(s): The Coming Of Lincoln
Subject(s): Lincoln, Abraham (1809-1865); Presidents, United States

Men saw no portents on that winter night
A hundred years ago. No omens flared
Above that trail-built cabin with one door,
And windowless to all the peering stars.
They laid him in the hollow of a log,
Humblest of cradles, save that other one—
The manger in the stall at Bethlehem.

No portents! Yet with whisper and alarm
The Evil Powers that dread the nearing feet
Of heroes, held a council in that hour;
And sent three fates to darken that low door,
To baffle and beat back the heaven-sent child.
Three were the fates—gaunt Poverty that chains,
Gray Drudgery that grinds the hope away,
And gaping Ignorance that starves the soul.

They came with secret laughters to destroy.
Ever they dogged him, counting every step,
Waylaid his youth and struggled for his life.
They came to master but he made them serve;
And from the wrestle with the destinies,
He rose with all his energies aglow.
For God upon whose steadfast shoulders rest
These governments of ours, had not forgot.
He needed for his purposes a voice,
A voice to be a clarion on the wind,
Crying the word of freedom to dead hearts,
The word that centuries had waited for.

So hidden in the West, God shaped his man.
There in the unspoiled solitude he grew,
Unwarped by culture and uncramped by creed;
Keeping his course courageous and alone,
As goes the Mississippi to the sea.
His daring spirit burst the narrow bounds,
Rose resolute; and like the sea-called stream,
He tore new channels where he found no way.
His tools were his first teachers, sternly kind.
The plow, the scythe, the maul, the echoing ax
Taught him their homely wisdom and their peace.
He had the plain man's genius—common sense;
Yet rage for knowledge drove his mind afar;
He fed his spirit with the bread of books,
And slaked his thirst at all the wells of thought.

But most he read the heart of common man,
Scanned all its secret pages stained with tears,
Saw all the guile, saw all the piteous pain;
And yet could keep the smile about his lips,
Love and forgive, see all and pardon all;
His only fault, the fault that some of old
Laid even on God—that he was ever wont
To bend the law to let his mercy out.

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