Home  »  Modern American Poetry  »  The Lincoln-Child

Louis Untermeyer, ed. (1885–1977). Modern American Poetry. 1919.

James Oppenheim1882–1932

The Lincoln-Child

CLEARING in the forest,

In the wild Kentucky forest,

And the stars, wintry stars strewn above!

O Night that is the starriest

Since Earth began to roll—

For a Soul

Is born out of Love!

Mother love, father love, love of Eternal God—

Stars have pushed aside to let him through—

Through heaven’s sun-sown deeps

One sparkling ray of God

Strikes the clod—

(And while an angel-host through wood and clearing sweeps!)

Born in the wild

The Child—

Naked, ruddy, new,

Wakes with the piteous human cry and at the mother-heart sleeps.

To the mother wild berries and honey,

To the father awe without end,

To the child a swaddling of flannel—

And a dawn rolls sharp and sunny

And the skies of winter bend

To see the first sweet word penned

In the godliest human annal.

Frail Mother of the Wilderness—

How strange the world shines in

And the cabin becomes chapel

And the baby lies secure—

Sweet Mother of the Wilderness,

New worlds for you begin,

You have tasted of the apple

That giveth wisdom sure.…

Soon in the wide wilderness,

On a branch blown over a creek,

Up a trail of the wild coon,

In a lair of the wild bee,

The rugged boy, by danger’s stress,

Learnt the speech the wild things speak,

Learnt the Earth’s eternal tune

Of strife-engendered harmony—

Went to school where Life itself was master,

Went to church where Earth was minister—

And in Danger and Disaster

Felt his future manhood stir!

All about him lay the land,

Eastern cities, Western prairie,

Wild, immeasurable, grand;

But he was lost where blossomy boughs make airy

Bowers in the forest, and the sand

Makes brook-water a clear mirror that gives back

Green branches and trunks black

And clouds across the heavens lightly fanned.

Yet all the Future dreams, eager to waken,

Within that woodland soul—

And the bough of boy has only to be shaken

That the fruit drop whereby this Earth shall roll

A little nearer God than ever before.

Little recks he of war,

Of national millions waiting on his word—

Dreams still the Event unstirred

In the heart of the boy, the little babe of the wild—

But the years hurry and the tide of the sea

Of Time flows fast and ebbs, and he, even he,

Must leave the wilderness, the wood-haunts wild—

Soon shall the cyclone of Humanity

Tearing through Earth suck up this little child

And whirl him to the top, where he shall be

Riding the storm-column in the lightning-stroke,

Calm at the peak, while down below worlds rage,

And Earth goes out in blood and battle-smoke,

And leaves him with the sun—an epoch and an age!

And lo, as he grew ugly, gaunt,

And gnarled his way into a man,

What wisdom came to feed his want,

What worlds came near to let him scan!

And as he fathomed through and through

Our dark and sorry human scheme,

He knew what Shakespeare never knew,

What Dante never dared to dream—

That Men are one

Beneath the sun,

And before God are equal souls—

This truth was his,

And this it is

That round him such a glory rolls—

For not alone he knew it as a truth,

He made it of his blood, and of his brain—

He crowned it on the day when piteous Booth

Sent a whole land to weeping with world-pain—

When a black cloud blotted the sun

And men stopped in the streets to sob,

To think Old Abe was dead.

Dead, and the day’s work still undone,

Dead, and war’s ruining heart athrob,

And earth with fields of carnage freshly spread—

Millions died fighting,

But in this man we mourned

Those millions, and one other—

And the States to-day uniting,

 100East and West,

North and South,

Speak with a people’s mouth

A rhapsody of rest

To him our beloved best,

 105Our huge Atlantic coast-storm in a shawl,

Our big, gaunt, homely brother—

Our cyclone in a smile—our President,

Who knew and loved us all

With love more eloquent

 110Oh, to pour love through deeds—

Than his own words—with Love that in real deeds was spent.…

To be as Lincoln was!—

That all the land might fill its daily needs

Glorified by a human Cause!

 115Flaming a faith across the dying Earth,

Then were America a vast World-Torch

Proclaiming from the Atlantic’s rocky porch,

That a New World was struggling at the birth!

O living God, O Thou who living art,

 120Into our souls and sanctify our Earth—

And real, and near, draw, as at that babe’s birth,

Let down Thy strength that we endure

Mighty and pure

As mothers and fathers of our own Lincoln-child—

 125That we may day by day

Make us more wise, more true, more strong, more mild,

Rear this wild blossom through its soft petals of clay;

That hour by hour

We may endow it with more human power

 130That it may reach the goal

Than is our own—

Our Lincoln long has shown!

O Child, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone,

Soul torn from out our Soul!

 135A Soul to search this world

May you be great, and pure, and beautiful—

To be a father, brother, comrade, son,

A toiler powerful;

A man whose toil is done

 140Work wrought through Love!

One with God’s Law above: