The Song of a Man and a Land
I am the nation that gave to the world
The man who is called Abe Lincoln.
I watched legend born in fire-lit books,
River rafts, the smooth shovel slate.
Quiet myth, gaunt truth,
The sad portrait speaks
Of Lincoln, Head of State.
Abe Lincoln and I are some alike,
A hybrid, a mingling of seeds.
The tall rebel man who freed other men
And the Nation most nearly free.
Note well this mingling of seeds in the land
That sent the tall man to his task,
Else tyrants will rule over slaves anew.
Even now some drink from death’s flask.
Abe Lincoln’s kind was not known in the world
When men first walked my valleys;
Not among my copper-skinned tribes
Nor the people of distant lands,
Where the rich were born to riches,
and the poor to servitude.
My first people lived in shadowed days
With crude tools and simple ways.
Hogans and wigwams, mystic longhouses;
Shrill cries, soft chants,
drums and dance
Called men to war and to hunt.
Then, a west-blowing breeze
Brings to the lea
The sea-weary Santa Maria,
With a new kind of folk,
milk-skinned and bold,
Who call my people Indians.
More ships come to probe my coasts,
To explore each river and bay.
They leave on my beach men, cargo and guns.
The ships sail eastward, away.
Red man stalks white man.
Death stalks them both.
I saw no wise man to guide them.
The white man came lusting for wealth,
His passion: power and treasure.
Before him I lay, a new world to gain,
But empire and gold was his pleasure.
He robbed my people, who fought back and killed.
Red women trembled in wonder
That the sure arrow’s whisper so soon was hushed
By the musket’s deadly thunder.
The Old World men unfurled gaudy flags
And plunged their staffs in my soil,
Claiming the land for England or France,
For Spain or Portugal.
This dull people dared to think
That man can own a land.
Did they not know? The land possesses man.
And this land claimed a man, Abe Lincoln.
Treasure and empire, the hunger for fame,
Lured Old World men to me,
But another kind came with a Book and a song.
They spoke of a Man and a Tree.
They clung hard to life, but many died
Building homes where men could be free.
Free? Idle dream, Old World men,
Yet a seed of promise for me.
Freedom swelled in the heart
Of one Roger Williams,
He thrust the seed deep in good soil.
In Rhode Island earth lay hope for new birth,
Ancestral seed for Abe Lincoln.
More nations sent their ships to my coasts
And spewed on my shores ten thousand.
I shuddered to see the plunder and waste
Of my creatures and their homeland.
Forests fled. Plows ripped the sod.
I saw my wild beauty fade
As hamlets grew bold,
Stretched their bounds to be cities,
Then spilled out the hardy beyond
My mountain defense toward the Great River.
Boone and more of his kind.
From the North Hampton pulpit
Of Jonathan Edwards
Rose a tide that swept down the land.
Wesley flint, Whitefield steel,
Gospel fire, God’s command.
A light in the night of gospel decline
New seeds for the needs of mankind.
My soil spawned a hybrid, hardy and bold;
A blending of spirit and might;
Ideas more daring than men ever dreamed
Put British Redcoats to flight.
But the time was not right
For Abe Lincoln.
Then I opened my gates and the people poled
Their flatboats down the Ohio.
The rafts bore scant goods,
But their hearts bore great hope,
Nourished by seeds from Rhode Island.
Man’s worth as a man,
Man’s right to be free;
The stalk and the branch of that hybrid.
I watched the frontier push westward and north.
A man rode out on his circuit.
A thousand miles alone he rode
To marry and bury and comfort.
He fought demon rum, the Devil and greed.
His Bible, his prayer, his sermon, more seed;
The leaf and the bud of the hybrid.
He summoned his flock
From the woodlands and fields;
They came, child and man, saint and sinner.
I swept clear the skies
That the great moon might rise
On the camp meeting hard by the river.
The tapping of feet to a staunch gospel beat;
Glory shouts rose to heaven, dulling the ear
To the chill cadence of fear
Already finding its rhythm.
My valleys caressed
And returned to the blest
In echo the song of the camp.
No lark sang so well as the music that fell
On the air in the night by the river.
A penitent wept at a hand-hewn bench,
Seeking peace with the price of tears.
Camp meeting seeds, swept by faith’s breeze,
Added the worth to the hybrid.
The Cross and the Book,
And the man who found God
Tore down the gross pride of high birth.
Freedom’s cup filled,
Slowly filled, then spilled
To bathe the new Nation with might.
A land of the free!
A home of the brave!
Almost, almost, but not quite.
A sore marred the health
Of the yet fledgling State,
A people come not by choice;
Bowed with a chain, dark children of pain,
They bore bitter seeds and a voice.
From the hold of foul ships;
Fettered, naked, for sale.
A cancer arose in my throng.
Their anguish-born prayer
From hearts torn with care,
Moses surely soon must come ‘long.
Labor and suffer, weep and more toil,
Dark seeds of shame in my soil.
Now, three hundred years
Since the white man came
To mingle bloods in my land,
The seeds sown and grown, and sown yet again
Swell. Nolen Creek, Kentucky.
Tom Lincoln paces.
A cabin of logs hears the cry!
Tom could scarce lift his eye.
An uncomely babe, new-born Abe,
But a son! The darling of Nancy.
Now kings are born on palace beds,
Lords from the ranks of peerage.
Caesars inherit the toga of power,
The garland festooned brow;
Abe? Abe was a clod,
Born to the sod,
His hope lay in the plow.
Yet the soil Indiana then Illinois,
Betrayed a mystic rare fragrance.
The straw Abe chewed, the rail he hewed,
Nourished and wrought a wonder.
Abe jumped and wrestled and swung his axe.
Abe listened and thought and read.
He learned of a Book left behind by poor Nancy.
No longer poor, now dead.
The clod caught the echo of dead Nancy’s prayer
For her cabin-born, uncomely waif.
From the fruit of the seeds of three centuries
Prayer brought forth a sweet wine of life.
Rough Abe drank deeply this nectar of God,
And allowed he was more than a clod.
The boy stood tall and became a man,
Taller than men around him.
He stood so tall he looked one day
To see the White House before him.
But it is not a hymn or camp meeting air
Or a mighty anthem I hear,
But a martial air, hot oratory,
The reticent marching of fear,
The retching of my child-State,
Sick with the gall of her slaves.
Those are the sounds that fall on my ear
As Abe takes the President’s chair.
Half slave half free?
The boom of the guns of Fort Sumter.
I watched from a mountain my people at war;
Homes torn, lands ravaged, men fell.
I grew sick from the stench of Andersonville
And the northern dungeons of hell.
Spades tore my sod.
The weight of the dead!
Men hid their shame in my soil.
Then peace. No, not peace,
War never brings peace
But a stupor before the next conflict.
Abe, tired, faced the taskOf mending his land,
But one shot was yet to be fired.
The last soldier to die
In that most tragic war
Was the man from the cabin of logs.
Yet Abe Lincoln stood tall,
North and South lowered flags that day.
The Union reborn in hearts called to mourn,
They wore blue coats and gray.
A dirge from the South,
A moan from the mouth
Of the people Abe Lincoln set free.
Men gathered the Clod,
Turned back the sod,
My earth folded close.
Abe was gone.
From the north Arctic snow
To the summer green South
One flag, Abe’s flag, was unfurled
To remember God’s Clod,
A new kind of man
In a new kind of land in the world.
A mingling of earth and faith and breath
Wrought by God for the dark and the fair
From bold hybrid seeds
Of hymn tunes and creeds,
Of courage and daring and prayer.
In the Man, in the Land,
See the Book and the Cross.
Don’t lose them.
Freedom lies there.