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Jun 9, 2004 9:11 pm


Lincoln on Suicide ...



A newly discovered 1838 poem of 36 lines, "The Suicide's Soliloquy", may have been written by Abraham Lincoln. It was published without attribution in the Sangamo Journal, but many scholars believe that its references, syntax, and tone are compatible with Lincoln's own. He did compose verse and his friend, Joshua Speed, referred to a poem on suicide by Lincoln which has not, until now perhaps, been found. Its author came to the banks of the Sangamon River and wrote:
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!

The poem's concluding stanzas are:
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!

Lincoln biographer Richard William Miller reports on his finding in the current issue of For the People – a Newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association. [Back issues only are available on-line.]

Other Lincoln scholars, such as Harvard's David Herbert Donald, remain skeptical."He very probably did write about suicide at some point," says Donald."But I'm not ready to attribute this specific poem to him." I'd like to hear Michael Burlingame weigh in on this. He's done some work which seems to show that, for example, the famous letter of 21 November 1864 from Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Bixby was probably composed, not by Lincoln, but by his secretary, John Hay. Authorship of"the Bixby letter" has long been contested in Lincoln scholarship, but Burlingame has made the most recent important contributions to the discussion.

Update: In an e-mail to HNN, Michael Burlingame writes:"The poem certainly sounds like Lincoln. Years ago I went through the Sangamo Journal trying to identify anonymous or pseudonymous items that seemed to me to be Lincoln's handiwork. Among the 200+ items that I selected for publication in a scholarly edition of Lincoln's unknown journalism (a book that I will have to postpone until my four-volume biography is finished in 2009) was the poem that Miller cites as Lincoln's suicide poem." If the poem is authentic, it requires that we rethink Lincoln's mood in the period. Says Burlingame:"I think the poem shows that at that time (mid to late 1830s) suicide was closer to the front burner of Lincoln's mind than to the back burner."

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Jos Bosco - 8/10/2004

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.

Through devils yells, 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!


Jos Bosco - 6/20/2004

Where can one read The Suicide’s Soliloquy ?
I've only been able to find the twelve lines above online.
If someone has a link or could post it that would be appreciated.
Thank you!


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 6/10/2004

There shouldn't be any doubt left that John Milton Hay was the author of the Bixby letter. See "At Lincoln's Side," edited by Michael Burlingame, pages 169-184. (Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.)


Oscar Chamberlain - 6/9/2004

Thoughts inspired by Lincoln's poem

If I ever become famous, I will burn most of my old poetry. Probably I should burn all of it.

I'm very glad that Lincoln did not become a transcendentalist.

Poe's place in our poetic pantheon is safe.

To be fair, Lincoln clearly wrote this with the spoken voice in mind. Nothing makes it good, but a grandiloquent raucous voice makes it much better, a grand gesture in the antebellum style.

The antebellum stage was a place of grand gestures, and not all were from the actors. One traveling thespian recorded his displeasure when a member of the audience threw half of a sheep on stage. (See Diana Rigg's, "No Turn Unstoned." )

Actually, see Diana Rigg in most anything

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