Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Abraham Lincoln

A lot of places online today have been referencing Walt Whitman's poem "O Captain! My Captain!", composed specifically to honor our fallen sixteenth president.

Allow me to do the same, quoting the third and final stanza ...

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor shop comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

I always had an arms-length fascination with Lincoln, going as far back as the fourth grade.  In the mid-90s, after years digesting King, Koontz, and Clancy, a thick biography of the man brought me back to the first real, heavy-duty world of nonfiction. A surprisingly quick and engrossing read.  Fifteen years later I returned to Lincoln as I started delving into America's Odyssey, the Civil War, another top that fascinated me but one that I had never really explored.

Two tidbits that I will tell any and every one whenever the subject of Lincoln comes up: The man kept two sets of literary works on his desk at the White House - the King James Bible and the collected works of Shakespeare.  (Re-read the Gettysburg Address with that in mind.)  And, as a newly-minted lawyer, young Mr. Lincoln made his way through all thirteen books of Euclid's Elements, an early Greek masterpiece expounding the postulates, axioms, and theorems of geometry, in order to teach himself the rigors of thinking logically, a feat of incredible determination and will, even more so by today's standards.

The best book on Lincoln I have read was James McPherson's Tried By War.  The Daniel Day Lewis movie of a few years back was riveting, too.  Maybe to honor the man I'll go to the local library this weekend and borrow the biopic starring Henry Fonda ...

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