The Long Shadow of Lincoln: A Litany 

The Long Shadow of Lincoln: A Litany 
By Carl Sandburg

(We can succeed only by concert. . . . The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves. . . . December 1, 1862. The President’s Message to Congress.)

Be sad, be cool, be kind,

remembering those now dreamdust

hallowed in the ruts and gullies,

solemn bones under the smooth blue sea,

faces warblown in a falling rain.

 

Be a brother, if so can be,

to those beyond battle fatigue

each in his own corner of earth

or forty fathoms undersea

beyond all boom of guns,

beyond any bong of a great bell,

each with a bosom and number,

each with a pack of secrets,

each with a personal dream and doorway

and over them now the long endless winds

with the low healing song of time,

the hush and sleep murmur of time.

 

Make your wit a guard and cover.

Sing low, sing high, sing wide.

Let your laughter come free

remembering looking toward peace:

“We must disenthrall ourselves.”

 

Be a brother, if so can be,

to those thrown forward

for taking hardwon lines,

for holding hardwon points

and their reward so-so,

little they care to talk about,

their pay held in a mute calm,

highspot memories going unspoken,

what they did being past words,

what they took being hardwon.

Be sad, be kind, be cool.

Weep if you must

And weep open and shameless

before these altars.

 

There are wounds past words.

There are cripples less broken

than many who walk whole.

There are dead youths

with wrists of silence

who keep a vast music

under their shut lips,

what they did being past words,

their dreams like their deaths

beyond any smooth and easy telling,

having given till no more to give.

 

There is dust alive

with dreams of The Republic,

with dreams of the Family of Man

flung wide on a shrinking globe

with old timetables,

old maps, old guide-posts

torn into shreds,

shot into tatters

burnt in a firewind,

lost in the shambles,

faded in rubble and ashes.

 

There is dust alive.

Out of a granite tomb,

Out of a bronze sarcophagus,

Loose from the stone and copper

Steps a whitesmoke ghost

Lifting an authoritative hand

In the name of dreams worth dying for,

In the name of men whose dust breathes

of those dreams so worth dying for,

what they did being past words,

beyond all smooth and easy telling.

 

Be sad, be kind, be cool,

remembering, under God, a dreamdust

hallowed in the ruts and gullies,

solemn bones under the smooth blue sea,

faces warblown in a falling rain.

 

Sing low, sing high, sing wide.

Make your wit a guard and cover.

Let your laughter come free

like a help and a brace of comfort.

 

The earth laughs, the sun laughs

over every wise harvest of man,

over man looking toward peace

by the light of the hard old teaching:

“We must disenthrall ourselves.”


Audio recording:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/play/75833


About the author

Excerpted from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/carl-sandburg

 Poet Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) was born into a poor family in Galesburg, Illinois. In his youth, he worked many odd jobs before serving in the 6th Illinois Infantry in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. He studied at Lombard College, and then moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he worked as an organizer for the Socialist Democratic Party. In 1913, he moved to Chicago, Illinois and wrote for the Chicago Daily News. His first poems were published by Harriet Monroe in Poetry magazine. Sandburg’s collection Chicago Poems (1916) was highly regarded, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for Corn Huskers (1918). His many subsequent books of poetry include The People, Yes (1936), Good Morning, America (1928), Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922), and Smoke and Steel (1920).

“Trying to write briefly about Carl Sandburg,” said a friend of the poet, “is like trying to picture the Grand Canyon in one black and white snapshot.” His range of interests was enumerated by his close friend, Harry Golden, who, in his study of the poet, called Sandburg “the one American writer who distinguished himself in five fields—poetry, history, biography, fiction, and music.”

Sandburg composed his poe.

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