Today is the birthday of our 14th president Abraham Lincoln. He was not a poet but he inspired some great poetry. Among the greatest is O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman, written on news of Lincoln's death.
O Captain! My Captain!
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
We all know Lincoln as the tall simple man who became the emancipator of the slaves. His humble beginnings exposed a man familiar with hard labor, working to earn a living.
But did you know that after he became a lawyer he was also a money lender? Or as president, he opened the doors to homeownership for the poor through the land grant act? Also during his presidency, he was responsible for issuing federal paper money for the first time. Before that, the government only issued gold and silver coins. Some paper money had been issued by private banks, but the first federal paper dollars were printed because of the Legal Tender Act. The money was printed with green ink on the back, hence the term “greenback”. His face is now displayed on the $5.00 bill.
No he wasn't a published poet but he was known as a great orator. His speeches are often quoted, none more eloquent than his Gettysburg Address.
Happy Birthday Mr President.
Conceived in Liberty*
A tall man
Gave our nation
"a new birth
* From Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln November 19, 1863