Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SQUIRE BOWLING GREEN, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

SQUIRE BOWLING GREEN, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: You missed it - case all over! Lincoln's gone
Last Line: Ten dollars, I believe, and went to springfield.
Subject(s): Lincoln, Abraham (1809-1865); Presidents, United States

You missed it -- case all over! Lincoln's gone.
He's just had time about to reach the mill.
He couldn't wait until the stage arrived.
Had business in the courts of Springfield -- well,
You can believe he has become a lawyer.
He borrowed Mentor Graham's horse to ride.
John Yoakum is in Springfield and to-morrow
Will bring it back.

Who won the case? Why, Abe.
He won it by his horse-sense and his wit.
You must have met the jury down the road.
What were they laughing at? About the case.
We started yesterday on the evidence
And finished up this morning. An appeal?
The verdict satisfies both parties, and
My judgment stands.

Abe is a natural lawyer,
Knows things that can't be found in books, although
He knows the books. And why not? You recall
When he was boarding with me how he studied?
It's just four years ago or so, that he
Came home one night with Blackstone. Well, I've noticed
A man attracts what's his, just like a magnet
Draws bits of steel. You can't make me believe
That Blackstone came to him unless 'twas meant
That he should be a lawyer. Don't you know?
He read this Blackstone in his store all day
And half the night as well. He said to me
Not Volney's "Ruins," Shakespeare, Burns, had taken
His interest like this Blackstone. Yes, he took it
When he went fishing with Jack Kelso, read,
And let Jack row the boat and bait the hooks....

I think he knows this Blackstone all by heart.
But anyway, he knows the human heart.
Well, now here is the case: Here is a colt.
George Cameron says the colt is his -- John Spears
Says no, the colt is mine, and Cameron sues,
And Spears defends, and sixty witnesses
Come here to testify, on my word it's true,
On my judicial oath it is the fact.
The thirty swear the colt is Cameron's;
And thirty swear the colt belongs to Spears;
And not a man impeached, these witnesses
Are everyone good men, and most of them
I know as I know you. Well, what's to do?
The scales are balanced. And besides all this,
Here's Cameron who swears the colt is his,
And Spears who swears the opposite, and both
Are credible, I know them both. So I
Sit like a fellow trying to decide
What happens when a thing impenetrable
Is struck by something irresistible --
I'm stumped, that's all.

You see the facts were these:
Each of these fellows owns a mare, the mares
Look pretty much alike, each had a colt
In April. But the other day one colt --
Which colt, that is the question -- strayed away
And can't be found. George Cameron has a colt --
These men are neighbors -- but John Spears comes over
And sees the colt at Cameron's in the field;
And says, "That is my colt." "Not on your life,"
George Cameron replies, "The colt is mine --
Your colt has strayed, not mine." They come to law.
John Spears gets Lincoln, and they come to court
With sixty witnesses; and here this noon
With all the evidence put in, I sit
And eye the jury, know the jury's stumped,
As I am stumped.

Then Lincoln says: "Your honor,
Let's have a trial on view." I'd heard of that,
But never sat on such a trial before.
"Let's bring the colt, the two mares over here,
And let the jury see which mare the colt
Resembles, let the jury use their eyes
As witnesses use theirs."

That seemed fair.
And so we sent one fellow for the mares,
Another for the colt. For Lincoln said:
"Your honor, bring them separate, so the jury
Can have the sudden flash of seeing them
Separate, to study them."

For an hour
Abe sat here in the shade and told us stories.
And pretty soon we heard the horses whinney,
And heard the colt. And Lincoln said, "Your honor,
Let's have the mares led past the jury, trotting,
Let's see their pace." And so they trotted them.
"Now trot the colt," said Lincoln -- we did that.
The jury watched to see the look of legs,
And movement, if you please, to catch a likeness.
But nothing came of this. Then Lincoln said:
"Now turn the colt loose" -- and they turned it loose.
It galloped to the mare of Spears and sucked!
Well, now it's true a colt's a silly thing,
And may mistake its mother, but a mare
Will never let a colt that's not her own
Put under flanks its nose. Of course the jury,
And all of us know that -- and so did Abe.
The jury yelled and all the witnesses
Began to whoop. And when I rapped for order
And got things quiet -- Lincoln rose and said,
"I rest, your honor."

So I entered judgment
For Spears. They went to Berry's for the drinks --
There! hear them laughing.

Lincoln took his fee,
Ten dollars, I believe, and went to Springfield.

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