Abraham Lincoln, a third-term representative and leader of the Whig Party statewide. Andrew Johnston, Lincoln's friend, published the Quincy [Illinois] Whig Newspaper and was a member of the Whig Party in the 1840s. Although politics was their first bond, Johnston and Lincoln shared an interest in poetry and corresponded about it.
In the spring of 1846, Abraham Lincoln completed the composition of one of his most serious poems, which dealt with his emotions upon visiting his childhood home. It is divided into two cantos. The first section was mailed to Lincoln's friend and fellow politician, Andrew Johnston, on April 18, 1846. The second was mailed on September 6, 1846. On May 5, 1847, Johnston published Lincoln's poem anonymously both cantos in the Quincy Whig Newspaper (The Herald-Whig, today) and titled it as "The Return." The first canto was dubbed "Part I – Reflection," and the second, "Part II – The Maniac."
|This undated photo shows the office of the Quincy Whig Newspaper when it was on Hampshire Street. Andrew Johnston was an editor there who published Lincoln’s poem "My Childhood Home I See Again" titled as "The Return" in the paper on May 5, 1847.|
Lincoln offered Johnston an explanation of the poem, "My Childhood Home I See Again," saying he had visited his boyhood neighborhood in southern Indiana in the fall of 1844 while campaigning for presidential hopeful Henry Clay. He commented that the region was "as unpoetical as any spot of the earth," but it brought back memories of loved ones such as his mother and sister who lay buried there.
My Childhood Home I See Again
by Abraham Lincoln
Published as "The Return" in 1847
— Part I – Reflection —
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;
As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar--
So memory will hallow all
We've known, but know no more.
Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.
Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.
The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.
I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.
Lincoln made Matthew Gentry the subject of Part II, telling Andrew Johnston: "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 poor neighborhood. 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 impression his case made upon me."
— Part II – The Maniac —
But here's an object more of dread
Than ought the grave contains--
A human form with reason fled,
While wretched life remains.
Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,
A fortune-favored child--
Now locked for aye, in mental night,
A haggard mad-man wild.
Poor Matthew! I have ne'er forgot,
When first, with maddened will,
Yourself you maimed, your father fought,
And mother strove to kill;
When terror spread, and neighbors ran,
Your dange'rous strength to bind;
And soon, a howling crazy man
Your limbs were fast confined.
How then you strove and shrieked aloud,
Your bones and sinews bared;
And fiendish on the gazing crowd,
With burning eye-balls glared--
And begged, and swore, and wept and prayed
With maniac laught[ter?] joined--
How fearful were those signs displayed
By pangs that killed thy mind!
And when at length, tho' drear and long,
Time smoothed thy fiercer woes,
How plaintively thy mournful song
Upon the still night rose.
I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed,
Far distant, sweet, and lone--
The funeral dirge, it ever seemed
Of reason dead and gone.
To drink it's strains, I've stole away,
All stealthily and still,
Ere yet the rising God of day
Had streaked the Eastern hill.
Air held his breath; trees, with the spell,
Seemed sorrowing angels round,
Whose swelling tears in dew-drops fell
Upon the listening ground.
But this is past; and nought remains,
That raised thee o'er the brute.
Thy piercing shrieks, and soothing strains,
Are like, forever mute.
Now fare thee well--more thou the cause,
Than subject now of woe.
All mental pangs, by time's kind laws,
Hast lost the power to know.
O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince,
That keepst the world in fear;
Why dost thos tear more blest ones hence,
And leave him ling'ring here?
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