Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Odd poem: Abraham Lincoln, ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’

Here where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from out your sheath,
And glist’ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

This poem was published anonymously in the April 25, 1838 edition of The Sangamo Journal of Springfield, Illinois, under this introduction: “The following lines were said to have been found near the bones of a man supposed to have committed suicide, in a deep forest, on the Flat Branch of the Sangamon, sometime ago.” For various reasons it is now commonly assumed that this is the poem that Lincoln’s friend Joshua Speed told Lincoln’s biographer William Herndon about, a poem that the President had written on suicide as he struggled through a period of deep depression.

A full discussion of the identification of the poem with Lincoln can be found in the magazine Shenandoah, and I happily quote their assessment of Lincoln’s merits as a poet:

The poem is similar to other mortality poems of the period, though even more melodramatic than most (the last stanza, in which the speaker continues to narrate his feelings after he has stabbed himself through the heart, is particularly painful). Aside from the historical curiosity of its authorship, the piece—with its glamourizing of suicide and its overwrought morbidity—does little to distinguish itself from other amateur poetry in the school of Poe.

Photo: “16 Abraham Lincoln” by US Department of State is marked with CC PDM 1.0