But milksickness took Nancy Lincoln’s life
At thirty-six, Abe whittling pine wood pegs
That held together planks the men had shaped
For Nancy’s coffin, and they buried her
Beside a path where deer ran through the woods.
The boy, who would in manhood hold a house
Together as it warred against itself,
Whose words would consecrate a battlefield,
Shed tears when Tom and Dennis buried her,
His childhood dying on a winter day.
His heart alone could understand its grief.
In thirteen months Tom married Sally Bush,
Who took a liking to young Abe, acquired
New clothes for him, and prompted him to read.
Abe read the Bible–source of Lincoln’s style
And love of righteousness declared in law–
And Pilgrim’s Progress, Life of Washington,
Aesop’s Fables, history, and DeFoe.
The home-schooled boy and future President
Grew up in Indiana, and became
A storyteller and a wit who worked
On farms, on flatboats and in blacksmith shops,
A man experienced at many tasks
And comfortable with people high and low.
On Sundays people went to meeting, men
Attired in deerskin pants and moccasins,
The women dressed their best, and neighbors talked
Of hunting game, of crops and children’s growth,
Until the Baptist preacher took a text
And preached the Gospel to the backwoods folks.
God-breathed, inscribed by men in holy fear,
The Word of God is sharper than a two-
Edged sword: it penetrates to split the soul
And spirit, joints and marrow; it is judge
Of thoughts and attitudes of human hearts.
The preacher’s Word sliced through the heart and bones
Of unschooled folks who lived by faith not sight,
And made a home in Lincoln’s heart and mind.
In eighteen-thirty Abe packed up again,
Driving a wagon drawn by oxen team
North of the Sangamon in Illinois.
Now six foot four, two hundred fourteen pounds,
He won New Salem’s praise when he prevailed
Against a bully in a wrestling match.
When Chief Black Hawk rode with five hundred braves
Across the river, Lincoln volunteered,
For duty called, and he was strong and bold.
Elected captain of a company,
He led this band, this “hardest set of men,”
Into no battles, and he had to save
An Indian who wandered into camp
From frontier soldiers eager to destroy
All Indians, including friendly ones.
The man who would emancipate the slaves
Thus stood alone, as he would often stand
Alone, to guard against abuse of force,
Protecting innocence from injury,
Obedient to mercy’s higher law.
Back in civilian life, declared a Whig,
He dared to stand against the crowd,
For all the Jackson Democrats enjoyed
The popularity their President
Had gained as military superstar.