Monday, February 18, 2013

Poem for President's Day and Lincoln's Cottage

Abraham Lincoln Walks At Midnight
By Vachel Lindsay

It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down,

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:— as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free:
The league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?


Since it is President's Day weekend and Paul's father's birthday, we spent Sunday afternoon with my in-laws at Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home in DC. The Soldiers' Home was built in 1851 for disabled veterans and four of its original buildings are still standing, including the cottage that served as the summer house for U.S. presidents -- several others lived there during hot Washington Augusts, but Lincoln spent nearly a quarter of his presidency there and wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation there. The Soldiers' Home is undergoing restoration but the Gothic Revival buildings are still pretty amazing, as is the adjacent cemetery. The cottage is restored but largely unfurnished, so the tour is primarily about the pressures on Lincoln and his family and how they escaped in the "country" as the area was then. There's a small museum and several short films in the visitor center. No indoor photos were allowed so here are a few from outside:

We stopped at nearby Fort Stevens, a large Civil War fortification that came under direct attack by Confederate troops while Lincoln was visiting, one of only two times that a sitting president was fired at by enemy troops. Since it was quite cold, we didn't walk around for long, but came home and watched some women's basketball before Paul made us Lincoln's favorite food for dinner -- chicken fricassee with buttermilk biscuits (well, fake chicken in my case) and apple pie. After my in-laws went home, we drove Daniel back to College Park since the University of Maryland has classes on President's Day, then watched this week's Once Upon a Time (which smells more like shark to me every week) and last week's The Americans (still engaging, but still very early in its run). Now, I am embarrassed to admit, we are watching Battleship, which I doubt I could praise very much even if Liam Neeson had been stark naked during his all-too-brief appearance, but is making us giggle.

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