On May 6th, 1865, the British magazine, London Punch, published the following poem which expressed the international sense of shock and sympathy over the unprecedented assassination of the 16th President of the United States of America:
Abraham Lincoln, Foully Assassinated
You lay a wreath on murdered Lincoln’s bier,
You, who with mocking pencil wont to trace,
Broad for self-complacent British sneer,
His length of shambling limb, his furrowed face,
His gaunt, gnarled hands, his unkempt, bristling hair,
His garb uncouth, his bearing ill at ease,
His lack of all we prize as debonair,
Of power or will to shine, or art to please,
You, whose smart pen backed up the pencil’s laugh,
Judging each step, as though the way were plain:
Reckless, so it could point its paragraph,
Of chief’s perplexity, or people’s pain.
Beside this corpse, that bears for winding-sheet
The Stars and Stripes, he lived to rear anew,
Between the mourners at his head and feet
Say, scurrile-jester, is there room for you?
Yes, he had lived to shame me from my sneer,
To lame my pencil, and confute my pen —
To make me own this kind of princes peer,
This rail-splitter a true-born king of men.
My shallow judgment I had learnt to rue,
Noting how to occasion’s height he rose,
How his quaint wit made home-truth seem more true,
How, iron-like, his temper grew by blows.
How humble, yet how hopeful, he could be;
How in good fortune and in ill the same;
Nor bitter in success, nor boastful he,
Thirsty for gold, nor feverish for fame.
He went about his work — such work as few
Ever had laid on head and heart and hand —
As one who knows, where there’s a task to do,
Man’s honest will must Heaven’s good grace command.
Who trusts the strength will with the burden grow,
That God makes instruments to work His will,
If but that will we can arrive to know,
Nor tamper with the weights of good and ill.
So he went forth to battle, on the side
That he felt clear was Liberty’s and Right’s,
As in his peasant boyhood he had plied
His warfare with rude Nature’s thwarting mights –
The uncleared forest, the unbroken soil,
The iron bark that turns the lumberer’s axe,
The rapid, that o’erbears the boatman’s toil,
The prairie, hiding the mazed wanderer’s tracks,
The ambushed Indian, and the prowling bear —
Such were the needs that helped his youth to train:
Rough culture — but such trees large fruit may bear,
If but their stocks be of right girth and grain.
So he grew up, a destined work to do,
And lived to do it – four long-suffering years;
Ill-fate, ill-feeling, ill-report, lived through,
And then he heard the hisses changed to cheers,
The taunts to tribute, the abuse to praise,
And took both with the same unwavering mood;
Till, as he came on light from darkling days,
And seemed to touch the goal from where he stood,
A felon hand, between the goal and him,
Reached from behind his back, a trigger prest, —
And those perplexed and patient eyes were dim,
Those gaunt, long-laboring limbs were laid to rest!
The words of mercy were upon his lips,
Forgiveness in his heart and on his pen,
When this vile murderer brought swift eclipse
To thoughts of peace on earth, good-will to men.
The Old World and the New, from sea to sea,
Utter one voice of sympathy and shame!
Sore heart, so stopped when it at last beat high;
Sad life, cut short just as its triumph came.
A deed accurst! Strokes have been struck before
By the assassin’s hand, whereof men doubt
If more of horror or disgrace they bore;
But thy foul crime, like CAIN’S stands darkly out.
Vile hand, that brandest murder on a strife,
Whate’er its grounds, stoutly and nobly striven;
And with the martyr’s crown crownest a life
With much to praise, little to be forgiven!
What makes this poem unique is its author. This specific poem was written by British playwright, Tom Taylor. It was Tom Taylor’s play, Our American Cousin, that Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated. While Laura Keene had made improvements to Tom Taylor’s original version of the play, you can’t help but wonder if Mr. Taylor was motivated to write this poem over his perceived guilt at writing a play so appealing, that it lured Lincoln to his death.
The poets’ Lincoln by Osborn Oldroyd