|Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
(In Springfield, Illinois)
By: Vachel Lindsay
The poem consists of eight stanzas each with the rime scheme ABCB.
Imagery: (Figure)“A mourning figure walks” (signals sadness)
“Portentous” (signals that it is an event that needs to be reported)
“Pacing” (signals that he is worried)
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,
Imagery: (Location) “shadowed yards” signals that it is dark.
“Lingers” signals that he is thinking about the past for a long time.
“Stalks…” signals that he is up all night thinking.
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.
Imagery: (Appearance): “bronze, lank wearing a black suit and top-hat”. These characteristics, the speaker claims, “make him the quaint great figure that men love.” And he adds that the figure is “The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.” This description makes it quite clear that the figure is Lincoln.
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.
Metaphor: “his hillside” refers to his grave-Lincoln is worried and restless and can’t remain in his grave “as in times before”; he has to come join the other people of the town who also “toss and lie awake.” The living people are kept awake by worries, and it is as if they see Lincoln walking among them.
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.
Imagery: A bowed head signals that Lincoln is thinking…”men and kings” means that he is thinking about the conditions of the world. He, therefore, is unable to rest. He stresses over the struggles of poor people, “too many peasants fight” and “homesteads in black terror weep”, which signals no hope, fear and sadness.
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.
Personification: “The sins of the war-lords burn his heart.” He can’t forget the horrible things that leaders have done. These worldly problems “He carries on his shawl-draped shoulders now / The bitterness, the folly and the pain.” The figure paces the town at midnight because of the many worries that trouble the citizens. Symbolism: The “shawl” signals old age, weariness and perhaps, the cold--giving him bitter and painful memories of things done wrong.
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.
Imagery: “He cannot rest…” that Lincoln will not be able to rest until peace comes to the world: until Europe is free, and people--“sober folk” or “Worker’s Earth” wise up and bring long-lasting peace the world over “to Cornland, Alp, and Sea”--geographic locations in Europe.
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,
Symbolism: “It breaks his heart…” signals that Lincoln is saddened that kings are still murdering, and all of his own good work here on earth seems “in vain.” The poem ends with the question, “And who will bring white peace / That he may sleep upon his hill again?” White signals purity/surrender so that Lincoln can return to his grave in peace.
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?