My Childhood's Home I See Again

Original Text: 
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, I, ed. Roy P. Basler, Marion Dolores Pratt, and Lloyd A. Dunlap (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953): 367-70, 378-79, 385-86. E 457 .91 Robarts Library
Canto 1
5O Memory! thou midway world
6    'Twixt earth and paradise,
7Where things decayed and loved ones lost
8    In dreamy shadows rise,
10    Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
11Like scenes in some enchanted isle,
12    All bathed in liquid light.
14    When twilight chases day;
16    In distance die away;
17As leaving some grand waterfall,
18    We, lingering, list its roar --
19So memory will hallow all
20    We've known, but know no more.
22    Since here I bid farewell
23To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
25Where many were, how few remain
26    Of old familiar things;
28    The lost and absent brings.
29The friends I left that parting day,
30    How changed, as time has sped!
31Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
32    And half of all are dead.
34    How nought from death could save,
35Till every sound appears a knell,
36    And every spot a grave.
37I range the fields with pensive tread,
38    And pace the hollow rooms;
40    I'm living in the tombs.
Canto 2
42    Than ought the grave contains --
43A human form with reason fled,
44    While wretched life remains.
46    A fortune-favored child --
47Now locked for aye, in mental night,
48    A haggard mad-man wild.
49Poor Matthew! I have ne'er forgot
50    When first, with maddened will,
51Yourself you maimed, your father fought,
52    And mother strove to kill;
53When terror spread, and neighbours ran,
54    Your dang'rous strength to bind;
55And soon, a howling crazy man
56    Your limbs were fast confined.
58    Your bones and sinnews bared;
60    With burning eye-balls glared --
61And begged, and swore, and wept and prayed
62    With maniac laughter joined --
65And when at length, tho' drear and long,
68    Upon the still night rose.
69I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed,
70    Far-distant, sweet, and lone --
71The funeral dirge, it ever seemed
72    Of reason dead and gone.
73To drink its strains, I've stole away,
75Ere yet the rising God of day
76    Had streaked the Eastern hill.
78    Seemed sorrowing angels round,
80    Upon the listening ground.
81But this is past; and nought remains,
84    Are like, forever mute.
85Now fare thee well -- more thou the cause,
86    Than subject now of woe.
88    Hast lost the power to know.
90    That keepst the world in fear;
91Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence,
92    And leave him ling'ring here?

Notes

1] Lincoln attached the complete poem in a letter written from Springfield, Illinois, on February 24, 1846, to Andrew Johnston, and revised versions of the first division or canto of it in two other letters to Johnston, one from Tremont on April 18, and the other from Springfield on September 26. Lincoln recounted the occasion of the poem to Johnston as follows: "In the fall of 1844, thinking I might aid some to carry the State of Indiana for Mr. Clay, I went into the neighborhood in that State in which I was raised, where my mother and only sister were buried, and from which I had been absent about fifteen years. That part of the country is, within itself, as unpoetical as any spot of the earth; but still, seeing it and its objects and inhabitants aroused feelings in me which were certainly poetry; though whether my expression of those feelings is poetry is quite another question. When I got to writing, the change of subjects divided the thing into four little divisions or cantos, the first only of which I send you now and may send the others hereafter" (Works, I, 378). Substantive variants between the two versions are noted here. The letter of April 18 establishes the extent of canto 1. The second canto appeared in the letter of September 6. Possibly "The Bear Hunt" was intended as the third canto. childhood's home: childhood-home (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
2] sadden: gladden (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
3] memory crowds: mem'ries crowd (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
4] pleasure: sadness (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
9] earthly: gross or (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
13] dusky: distant (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
15] bugle-notes: bugle-tones (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
21] Near: Now (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
24] playmates: school-mates (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
27] them: these (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
33] loved: lone (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
39] companion: companions (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
41] But: And (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
45] Lincoln introduced the second canto to Johnston in his letter of September 6 as follows: "The subject of the present one [canto] is an insane man. His name is Matthew Gentry. He is three years older than I, and when we were boys we went to school together. He was rather a bright lad, and the son of the rich man of our very poor neighbourhood. At the age of nineteen he unaccountably became furiously mad, from which condition he gradually settled down into harmless insanity. When, as I told you in my other letter I visited my old home in the fall of 1844, I found him still lingering in this wretched condition. In my poetizing mood I could not forget the impressions his case made upon me" (Works, I, 384-85). Back to Line
57] strove: writhed (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
59] gazing: gaping (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
63] were: are (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
64] killed thy: kill the (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
66] thy: your (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
67] thy: your (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
74] stealthily: silently (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
77] trees, with the spell: the trees all still (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
79] Whose: Their (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
82] thee: you (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
83] Thy: Your (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
87] by: but (Feb. 1846). Back to Line
89] This stanza is only in Lincoln's revised version and was likely meant to replace the following two stanzas, which close the poem in its first version:
And now away to seek some scene
    Less painful than the last --
With less of horror mingled in
    The present and the past.

The very spot where grew the bread
    That formed my bones, I see.
How strange, old field, on thee to tread,
    And feel I'm part of thee!

Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1847
Publication Notes: 
Published first by Andrew Johnston with Lincoln's permission, but without author attribution, May 5, 1847, in the Quincy Whig (Works, I, 385, 392), with the title "The Return" and subdivisions named "Part I -- Reflection" and "Part II -- The Maniac".
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2003
Rhyme: 
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