Denton Jaques Snider.

Lincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest online

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Such is my present creed,
Which I have learned from a wandered white
Whom once I lodged and talked with over-
night.
So send to me when comes the need ;
Upon my help you may rely,
Till then, good-bye.



Canto Jf tfti).



LINCOLN'S MARCH.
I.

Forward the frolic soldiers fare
Laughing and singing without a care ;
New Salem soon is out of sight,
Yet over it a cloudlet bright
Hangs sun-beshone up in the sky,
And drops its glint in every eye
Which glimpsing back with turned head
Lets the foot trip in onward tread,
Perchance a tear might now and then be shed.
To Bardstown leads the road quite new,
Marked by a muddy rut or two
Of wagon wheels, and by the stamp
Of horses' hoofs, to which the tramp
Of human feet now adds its tracks
Imprinted as on softest wax.
(146)



THROUGH THE PRAIRIE. ^47

Over their way a cloud would lower —
The needle lightning pricks their sight,
Flashing its point e'en in the night,
And makes their eyelids close and cower ;
The welkin sprays an April shower
Into their startled faces just for fun.
Next in his turn the merry-making sun
Would pour down at a single glance
Wide waterfalls of radiance
Slanting athwart the fluffy cloud,
And shedding sheen upon that crowd
Responsive in a smiling dance
'er every line of countenance ;
While with his heat sent from above
Sol dries their garments at his stove,
And warms them with his love.
Now from the prairie 's outstretch free,
As level as the surfaced sea,
A flowering democracy
Rainbows the land with variegated glee,
A throng of all the floral races
Begin to show their tinted faces;
The whites, the yellows, and the reds,
Uprise and nod their mottled heads
In the caressing vernal breeze,
With many radiant courtesies
Unto the lines which march along,
Saluting too the Captain strong,
Who seems to be the very man
The prairie longs for in its plan,



148 CANTO T—LINCOLWS MARCH.

Hailing him in its grassy scroll

The incarnation of its soul ;

It laughs as if it has a new life won,

And folds in love its very son,

Of all to be the greatest one

Ever bred upon its even space ;

It mirrors him within its face

The leveler of caste and race,

And sees its own equality

Rise up into humanity,

Become a man incorporate

Who puts its soul into the State.

Oh wonderful the transformation —

He seems to prairie all the Nation!

The peaks along the Atlantic shore,

No longer haughty as before

In pride of the old families

Which always claimed the topmost prize,

Have tipped their heads a little lower,

Above him they can hardly soar !

The difference of East and West,

Of mountain old and young prairie,

He moulds into a union blest,

Though they be still somewhat contrary —

Joining of each what is the best

In one great swirl of patriotic zest.

Also the South as well as North

Fails not to feel his prairial worth ;

For both anew he interlinks,

Evening out their wayward kinks



THROUGH THE PRAIRIE. 149

Into one mighty equaled whole

That all this people have one soul,

The one abiding consecration,

And may henceforth be called the Nation.

So Abraham Lincoln went his way,

And many a thought leaped up that day

Jumping into his brain and out,

It was rainbow-colored rout

Of happy hopeful fantasies,

Which skipped around the sunlit skies

In iridescent drolleries.

At that fine sword he often glanced,

Which dangled at his side and danced

In sympathetic jingles of enjoyment

To find itself again in such employment,

And to caress its long-shanked wearer,

Worthy of its ancestral bearer.

From wreathed scabbard then he drew

That fiery flashing blade anew,

And sharply viewed it from near by,

When the inscription caught his eye

Which he had glimpsed before ;

Man is born free — so ran its lore,

Once worded in the Declaration

Signed by a former generation

Of famous levelers,

For whom his heart in speech upstirs :

"A Eutledge too has there his name

Upon the roll of everlasting fame —



150 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

Shall I ever do the same I ' '
So Lincoln dreamed of his career.
And yet the memory most dear,
E'en calling up a tender tear,
Hovered around the maiden's word
As she him girded with this sword —
Sword of the Rutledges now taken
And at the country's foe reshaken.
The hoary brand that Balmung hight
And gleamed afar in old Teutonic night,
Girding the champion Sigfrid bright
As if he were the hero of the sun,
Shall be by this new sword outshone
When its heroic deed is done.

At every crossing of the roads
The people flocked by wagon loads,
Or thither tramped from near and far
To see the soldiers go to war.
The mother held her babe at breast,
And loudly cheered with all the rest;
Much she had heard the borderers talk,
She feared the Indian's tomahawk,
Which the mute suckling did not spare,
Whose fate the mother too might share.
Old sooty Satan with hoof and horn
The backwoods rather held in scorn;
They knew one overmastering evil,
And named him the Red Devil !
One article of faith they had,



THROUGH THE PRAIRIE. \§\

And never failed to make it good — or bad —
And for such faith their blood would shed :
"The Indian good is Indian dead."

Soon out the ranks a high-keyed voice

Piped up a note of shrilly noise —

It was one of the younger boys :

"Captain, show off a little of your glory,

And tell us now a roaring story."

Whereat another older throat

Brayed out a louder, coarser note :

"Abe, you can outspin the world in yarning,

That is the nub of all your laming;

Come, make us now a little speech,

Somehow you cannot help but preach,

Balloon yourself with some hot air

Which you can make just anywhere,

And hoist us up to cloudland fair."

Lincoln looked skyward at the word,

And to a kind of prayer was stirred :

"Behold the glory of the Lord!

Above us bends his promised arch,

Beneath whose radiance we'll march;

A web of raindrops with a woof

Of sunbeams forms our palace roof

Woven into a rainbow's aureole,

Upon high Heaven's stormful loom;

It echoes to the boding soul

A forecast of a double doom,

A mishap tuned to hope and happiness,



152 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

A burn which blisters but to bless,
A joy transfigured from distress.
Most beautiful celestial wonder,
Yet built on black infernal thunder,
Thou hast unlinked the lightning's chain
And Heaven freed to love again.' '

So Lincoln told his most exalted vein,

And far fore-felt his inner bent,

The working of presentiment;

And yet he had another outer strain.

Down the full-flowing Sangamon

The soldiery is marching on;

The Captain halts them on its banks,

And bids them break their easy ranks

For one good look at that grand stream,

Which wound in hope around each heart,

From which they soon will have to part,

Whose flood must yet be plowed by steam,

Uniting with the world their county —

And that all held their greatest future

bounty.
Stretching his arms to their full reach,
Lincoln could not hold back his throbbing

speech,
He made it echo as far as he was able:
"The Sangamon is navigable!
That is my creed's first text
On which I'll preach this day and next,
Nor can I well forget at any rate



THROUGH THE PRAIRIE. 153

I am a legislative candidate.' '

But when he had intoned this note

He touched the thought which made him

dote:
" Behold yon flood, will it not float
A noble Mississippi boat?"
All shouted low approval, for
They wanted to believe their orator;
One voice alone dared lisp a doubt:
' ' To-morrow maybe 'twill run out. ' '
Lincoln snapped up the word at once :
"Upon a time there was a dunce,
Who stood beside a mighty stream
Which swept along the bank so fast
He thought it must go dry at last,
And so he waited in his dream
Till he could step across at will;
I hear that he is waiting still."

That hoisted all their lungs to cheers,
They jabbed the doubter with their jeers,
When Abe again bespoke the volunteers :
"Let us no more the future borrow,
That loan we never can pay back,
Until old Time runs off the track,
I shall not wait here till to-morrow.
Forward — march with the crest, my boys,
The lofty crest of Sangamon,
As it sweeps ever swirling on
Until it pours into the Illinois



154 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

Which to the Mississippi flows —
But not that way our journey goes,
Here let my watery sermon close. "
So they their frothy streamlet followed
Till it at one big gulp was swallowed
By open mouth of a large river-god,
Who bore it in his belly like pea in pod,
And seething swam southwestward in a rage,
But ever with a bigger swagger for his age.
The line of soldiers crawls again
Across the flat-topped grassy plain ;
There on the prairie Time stands still
And suns himself at his sweet will;
He checks the hurry of his pace,
For he has found his happy stopping place,
As if he had reached the end of his long race ;
He drops his hour-glass by his side,
And lets the universe just slide;
His whetted scythe no more he holds,
But lounges o'er the greenery's folds,
So that the prairie seems to be
Earth's visible eternity,
Which now the spring has flecked with flow-
ers
Whirling from Heaven in sunny showers
Whose drops file down the sky-built arch
Serried in a rainbow march.

Anon the troops come to a wooded plot,
Quite rounded by a runnel was the spot,



THE FUGITIVE SLAVE-MOTHER. 155

As if it were a planted flower pot,

In which the eye surprised could see

The red-lipped blowth of the appletree,

And wonder how that miracle could be.

A little wood-nymph lives just there

Who scents with fragrance all the air,

Strewing the blossoms in her hair,

And as she flits along her track

She combs the curly sunshine down her back.

Lincoln looked at the bloom and wondered,

Its place from man so far was sundered;

That perfume too stirred up another sense

Far higher, nobler than its own,

There came a sense of Providence

To Lincoln on the breezes blown.



II.

At last upon a bluff all stood,

And watched the Mississippi's flood

Crawl in the distance serpentine

From out the North and through the South,

Until it opes its many-throated mouth

Belching itself into the brine.

They see it form a double boundary line

Between two States — a motley pair,

Illinois here, Missouri there —

One white, the other somewhat black;

Both lie along the Kiver's track,

And through its windings in and out



156 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

They seem to wrestle round about

Along its ever-roaring route.

Though each was called of each the brother,

Each rushed to grapple with the other,

Though neither got the better,

Each forged the other's fetter.

And as the Illinoisans gazed,

They of a sudden were amazed

To see a woman enter camp,

A negress with her race's stamp,

And yet not altogether so

For she was mixed, half-black half-white,

Dual like the Great Biver's flow,

Two races she faced out to sight,

Mulattoed in her very right ;

And on her back shawled up in state

Peeped forth a picaninny's curly pate.

She had escaped beyond the border

And crossed the stream without an order :

She dared break through that double Eiver

Which prisoned her and hers forever —

Double it was as her own birth,

Still she resolved the bond to sever

Asserting her sole human worth.

Her husband had been gone for years —

She punctuated words with tears —

In the free North, she knew not where,

To find him now was her chief care.

And they would sell her only boy,



THE FUGITIVE SLAVE-MOTHER. 157

To make him free, that was her joy;

She wished herself down in her grave,

If she must mother him a slave.

The soldiers on that April day

Gathered around the runaway,

Some shouted: "Send her back!

She is her master's own, not ours,

Return she must, by all the Powers l"

That put the woman on the rack.

She never would reverse her track

Across that double River,

But rather in its waves go to the Giver;

A tear welled up out of her soul,

And down her bronzed cheek did roll,

Then on her chin it hung from tufted mole

Where it would catch and glisten,

As if it longed to listen.

Then others said : ' ' That will not do !

It would to Heaven be untrue,

Let her be free like me and you."

That company surged up divided
And as the Mississippi, was two-sided,
By this one slave the very brain
Seemed of a sudden cleft in twain;
Each part was getting ready for a tussle
Which might come to the test of muscle ;
But Captain Lincoln stepped up to the front
And drew his sword, as was his wont,
Then on the spot he bade his band



158 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

To form in line at his command.

Two sides among his folk he saw,

Each having its own law,

Two sides he felt within his breath

Fighting each other to the death.

The fugitive into his tent

With stern behest he ordered sent,

And then he spoke his fast intent:

1 ' Upon this case you are divided,

By me it has to be decided,

But not just now. I first must grow

A little over night,

That I may see what's right,

Before I make the final throw."

Some hostile murmuring there was,

But Lincoln dared uphold his cause,

Asserting in himself the law of laws,

And yet forefeeling in this little clash

The fore- sent throb of a mightier crash

Between the passing outer right

And the rising inner light.

A smooth-chinned man in old drab suit
Came into camp to sell some fruit,
Potatoes too as well as meat,
Whatever might be good to eat;
His milk he sold unskimmed,
His hat he wore broad-brimmed,
He never failed to give good measure,
And at the deed to show his pleasure;



THE FUGITIVE SLAVE-MOTHER. 159

Lincoln soon marked him and bethought:

" Aye, just the man whom I have sought,

The very man from hence to take her,

A lordly conscienced soul — a Quaker —

Who never will in fear forsake her.

Forefathers mine were Quakers too,

In me there is a strain of that same view;"

Whereat he spake unto the man,

Concealing in deft words his plan:

"Hurry and peddle out your truck.

Another bargain must be struck,

For which I wish us both alone

That it be rightly done."

The meek disciple of George Fox

Stared blank as if he were an ox,

When Lincoln sobered his request

Yet hid it in a long-faced jest:

"Come to my tent when you are through

That hat, good friend, I wish to buy of you,

And e 'en in war to wear it too. ' '

Then Abraham goes to his tent

Alone, but in deep argument

With his own soul upon this theme:

"Am I awake, or do I dream?

Is this world real, or does it seem?

I feel embattled in my brain,

Of principles two armies file

And fire for many a blazing mile,

Both sides are fighting might and main,



1(50 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

I know not how to stand the strain.

I never was so tempest-tossed,

If one side loses I am lost,

The gain of either is my cost.

Against the Eeds my men agree,

But this black skin splits unity;

And as this camp, so too this State,

So too this Nation separate,

So too within myself the rent —

And I in halves of self am hent.

So 'tis inside me, so without,

I scarcely know what I'm about,

In me this camp, this State, this Nation

Show one deep yawning separation."

Thus Lincoln brooded o'er his task,

Nobody there he dared to ask

What might his duty be in this decision,

When all the world rasped in division,

Too stifling 'twas, and out he went

And strolled in thought around his tent

Which now was the high firmament;

The distant Mississippi's flood

Seething he saw as there he stood,

And felt it sympathetic with his mood,

Pulsing his heart's own plentitude:

"You struggling Titan of a stream,
In this same rift to me you seem —
And my cleft soul is yours, I deem,
You are half-free half-slave,



THE FUGITIVE SLAVE-MOTHER. 161

No wonder that you rave

And wrestle with yourself in strife

Which makes eternal war your life;

The wild commotion in your breast,

Eesponds to mine and gives no rest;

Free here, but over yonder slave,

The battle joins just in your wave,

Both sides line up with furious clash,

I see it in your spray and splash.

What makes this turbid pother?

This side resists the other,

Forbidding any slave to go

Back to his former world of woe.

That tallies with my heart's command,

By it I now shall take my stand,

This woman I shall not send back

E'en though the blood-hound scents her

track ;
I shall in some way sneak her out
Veiling her course in cloud of doubt.
And yet I feel the counter stroke
Which I within myself provoke,
For I commit a violation
Of the first law of the first Nation:
That is to me a new damnation."
So Lincoln swayed in agitation
Worse than the Mississippi's seething —
You could hear it in his breathing;
He looked around as if for aid
In that stern strife which two laws made,
11



152 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

Conflicting each with each

And stamping on his heart their breach.

He saw the Quaker toward him glide

And take a place just at his side,

That presence was a comfort to his spirit,

As if his own he did inherit —

An inner voice — and he did hear it;

It was already getting dark

While to the man he whispered: "Hark!

I fain would know just where you dwell;

Describe your house that I can see it well

So as to find it or its place re-tell ;

And let me hear your name

For I may have to use the same."

The man obeyed the strange request,

Just now it seemed what was the best;

For Lincoln's voice became the inner

Whose best the Quaker heard,

Which if he scoffed, he was the sinner,

And so he quickly spoke the word:

"As Quaker Ellwood I am known

To all the neighborhood around,

That title has me wholly overgrown,

Enwreathing me wherever I am found —

I cannot get outside its sound.

Upon this little creek I dwell,

Which here you see to wander

And pour into the Eiver yonder.

With ease my dwelling you can tell,



THE FUGITIVE SLAVE-MOTHER. IQ£

Six miles due east it comes to sight,
A weather boarded house and painted white ;
The only one you can spy out
In all that country thereabout. ' '
"The place I see with inner eye,
Could go to it if I should try;"
So Lincoln spake his satisfaction,
And then enjoined another action,
Which would require a bit of guile
From Quaker Ellwood for a while,
And which to him was somewhat stunning,
His conscience could not counterfeit in cun-
ning,
Though Lincoln's outside seemed but fun-
ning
As he drew down his crescent lips,
And hung a joke on their nether tips:
"Now to this sapling hitch your nags,
And in your wagon spread your bags,
I'll send you home with a new load
When night has covered all your road."
The sun had shot his final gleam
The tired camp became a dream,
Then Ellwood tickled up his team,
And in his wagon bed there lay,
Crouched on some tender tufts of hay,
Two darkies speeding on their way;
The mother and her picaninny fleeing,
Not daring to be seen or seeing,
All huddled in a heap of rags,
Could not be told from farmer's bags.



164 CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

But Lincoln with himself was far from one —

The stratagem in him begot no fun,

But stabbed him inwardly with strife

Which cut down to the center of his life:

That he had violated law he knew;

The very thought kept sawing him in two,

Well had he read the Constitution,

Against it now he turned his deed —

This shook him like a fragile reed —

He loved his country's institution,

Which had become his being's deepest creed,

But with him now it disagreed,

And sent deep aching discords through his

soul
Which caused him all the night to coil and

roll
In furious agony,
Of which there was no remedy
To medicine him free.
And so he wrestled with his trouble —
The very Law in him turned double,
Like the Mississippi's flood,
Like that slave mother's blood —
Two Laws were fighting in his heart,
The combatants he could not part,
But had to endure from each the blow;
He felt of each the victory,
And too of each the overthrow,
All of himself was mutiny
So fell at times he almost fainted;



JACK KELSO'S CAESAR. IQfr

But with the Furies he became acquainted

The Furies of the age and yet his own,

Which in himself he must put down

And in his country too,

Such is the deed he has to do,

If with this trial he gets through.

But for a while he had a spell,

In which the difference he could not tell

Between himself and Hell.

III.

The struggle lay in him and all his band,
But he would flee from it to story-land,
And take his company along,
Till they and he forgot the throng
Of far-away presentiment,
Which seemed to come to them downsent
Shadowing their souls with aught fore-
meant.
For underneath the red man's battle
Which could but make a little rattle,
They felt a deeper, mightier strife,
In which there was the fight for life.
They marched quite silent till the sun
Told from his tower that day was done;
When they their evening meal had taken,
They sat around as if forsaken,
They could not cast away their gloom,
But seemed to be awaiting doom,



IQQ CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

When Lincoln loudly called, "Where's

Jack!
Now is the time to put him on the track,
And start him up, with spur of praise,
To trumpet one of Shakespeare's plays,
And make the mighty lines reverberate
With the very roll of fate. —
Kelso, declaimer tragical,
I wish to hear of Caesar's fall,
Which once I heard thy thunder give
That I did die with him, yet live;
His murder I forefeel today
Far more than then — I know not why —
But that is nought — let's have the play —
I want to see great Caesar die."

So Lincoln chooses that one part
As if it would extract a dart
Outletting his foreboding heart. ♦
Jack needed not two invitations;
For he did love that play's orations,
Which suited Lincoln's lowering mood,
And fed his soul with pensive food.
So Kelso mounted on a cart
With Cassius' speech he made a start;
Conspiracy of lesser men
Against the greatest one he then
Set forth in word and act and mien,
Treading alone that backwoods scene.
But when they slew their mightiest hero,



JACK KELSO'S CAESAR. \ffl

And sought to make bis work a zero

In the grand stream of History,

That crowd did answer with a cry:

"The dammed black-hearted traitors — spare

none
Let me get at them with my gun."
Jack Kelso made all feel it, by his art —
The dagger's point in Caesar's heart;
One. man sprang up and cocked his old fu-
see
To shoot the specters of that tragedy;
Then Lincoln fronted them to say
Holding his hand aloft: "Enough today!
Those spooks we have not now to slay,
We soon may see a fleshier fray;
Not with old Eoman long since dead
We war, but with the living Red. —
My Jack well-done ! our very breath
We breathed out with Caesar's death;
Not yet has mine got back to me,
I cannot speak so well, you see.
Hereafter we shall have the rest,
And you must voice with all your zest
The words of Shakespeare tragical
Shaped in your action magical.
O Shakespeare, of men the doomless
Thy folk alone seem ever tombless
And thou thyself in time art dateless,
Fate's own revealer fateless. —
But, Jack, tell in the next recital,



16g CANTO V— LINCOLN'S MARCH.

Of Caesar's murder the fierce requital,

For all of us desire to see

That the assassins punished be."

Within his tent then Lincoln slipped,

His soul so deeply had been dipped,

Into the blood of Julius Great

He some-how felt that self-same fate

Lurking within a far-off feeling

Which came in secret o'er him stealing,

As if a trance against his will

Made in his heart, the future thrill.

The great man saw he f atef ulest,

Though deemed by all the world the best.

Inside his narrow muslin den

He lay, while around him snored his men

Fore-done with marching all that day

Beneath the sunbeams 's fervid play

Upon the flowering month of May.

Outstretched he rolled upon his bed,

With one coarse blanket overspread

Upon the prairie's mattress green

Which spring had laid for him unseen ;

His head might feel a passing jog

Pillowed upon a little log;

Over head he heard the wild goose cackle,

And under him the grasses crackle

As he lolled round upon his cot,

And could not sleep a jot.

He fell into remote reflection



JACK KELSO'S CAESAR. lf}9

In which his soul roamed this direction :
"The hero's good is blent with guilt.
For which the doer's blood is spilt;
Whereby he sheds him of what's mortal
Just at eternity's oped portal;
The penalty he pays for his great deed,
He dies to win undying meed. ' '

Thus Lincoln felt the stab in Caesar's death


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