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Abraham Lincoln's "My Childhood Home I See Again"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Abraham Lincoln

Introduction and Excerpt from "My Childhood Home I See Again"

The sixteenth president, called the Great Emancipator, who was renowned for his poetic renderings in the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, also scribbled some fine verse in addition to his political tracts. The first Republican president did, in fact, leave a body of work that does indeed qualify as poetry.

Abraham Lincoln once said he would give anything, even incur debt to be able to write poetry; his favorite poem was "Mortality" by William Knox. One of Lincoln's most noted poems describes a visit to his childhood home and is titled "My Childhood Home I See Again." This poem is divided into two cantos; the first canto consists of ten stanzas, and the second canto consists of thirteen stanzas. Each stanza has the rime scheme, ABAB.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Excerpt from "My Childhood Home I See Again"

I

My childhood's home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world
'Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-tones that, passing by,
In distance die away; . . .

To read the entire poem, please visit "Poetry Written by Abraham Lincoln."

Reading of Lincoln's "My Childhood Home I See Again"

Commentary

Abraham Lincoln's nostalgic poem features a melancholy visit to the president's childhood home, where he learns the fate of former friends. He then recounts the curious life of a particular man, as he philosophically muses on the mystery of death.

Canto 1: Sad and Pleasant Memories

The first canto opens with the speaker reporting that he is visiting his childhood home. He becomes sad as poignant memories flood his mind. But he also finds, "There's pleasure in it too."

In the second stanza, the speaker muses about the nature of memory, portraying it as a "midway world / 'Twixt earth and paradise." But in this earthly paradise, "things decayed and loved ones lost / In dreamy shadows rise."

Stanzas three through five continue to muse about the nature of memory, how it transforms scenes into "some enchanted isle, / All bathed in liquid light." And memory will "hallow all / We've known, but know no more."

In stanzas six through ten, the speaker reports that he has been away from the childhood home for twenty years, that now there are fewer of his former friends remaining, and the ones left have "changed as time has sped." And half of them have died, while many others went from "Young childhood grown to strong manhood gray."

The surviving friends inform him about the deaths of their former friends, and the speaker then walks through the fields thinking as he paces what seem to be "hollow rooms," and the situation renders him so melancholy that thinks he is "living in the tombs."

Canto 2: Drama of a Young Man

The speaker begins Canto 2 by comparing the sadness of the grave to the sadness of one whose mind is gone while his body still lives on: "But here's an object more of dread / Than ought the grave contains / A human form with reason fled, / While wretched life remains."

The speaker is dramatizing the sorrowful event of a young man he knew, named Matthew Gentry. Matthew was a bright young man, son of a wealthy family, but at age nineteen he unaccountably went mad: "Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright, / A fortune-favored child / Now locked for aye, in mental night, / A haggard mad-man wild."

The rest of the canto presents a portrayal of poor Matthew's mad ravings, how he hurt himself, fought with father, and nearly killed his mother. The speaker muses and speculates as he reports each disturbing scene.

The final stanza presents the speaker personifying and addressing Death, inquiring of Death, why he takes the healthy-minded and leaves this mentally defective lingering: "O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince, / That keepst the world in fear; / Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence, / And leave him ling'ring here?"

Lincoln and Poetry

Abraham Lincoln loved poetry, so it is little wonder that he would try his hand at it. He doubted that he could ever be a poet, but he had the temperament and skill with words that leaves little doubt that his scribbling is the stuff of poetry.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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