A Poem For Monday


by Zoë Pollock

"Ode to Lincoln" by James Russell Lowell appeared in The Atlantic in 1865:

Such was he, our Martyr-Chief,

Whom late the Nation he had led,

With ashes on her head,

Wept with the passion of an angry grief:

Forgive me, if from present things I turn

To speak what in my heart will beat and burn,

And hang my wreath on his world-honored urn.

Nature, they say, doth dote,

And cannot make a man

Save on some worn-out plan,

Repeating us by rote:

For him her Old-World moulds aside she threw,

And, choosing sweet clay from the breast

Of the unexhausted West,

With stuff untainted shaped a hero new,

Wise, stedfast in the strength of God, and true.

How beautiful to see

Once more a shephert of mankind indeed,

Who loved his charge, but never loved to lead;

One whose meek flock the people joyed to be,

Not lured by any cheat of birth,

But by his clear-grained human worth,

And brave old wisdom of sincerity!

They knew that outward grace is dust;

They could not choose but trust

In that sure-footed mind's unfaltering skill,

And supple-tempered will

That bent like perfect steel to spring again and thrust.

Nothing of Europe here,

Or, then, of Europe fronting mornward still,

Ere any names of Serf and Peer

Could Nature's equal scheme deface;

Here was a type of the true elder race,

And one of Plutarch's men talked with us face to face.

I praise him not; it were too late;

And some innative weakness there must be

In him who condescends to victory

Such as the Present gives, and cannot wait,

Safe in himself as in a fate.

So always firmly he:

He knew to bide his time,

And can his fame abide,

Still patient in his simple faith sublime,

Till the wise years decide.

Great captains, with their guns and drums,

Disturb our judgement for the hour,

But at last silence comes;

These are all gone, and, standing like a tower,

Our children shall behold his fame,

The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man,

Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame,

New birth of our new soil, the first American.