Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Poem By Abe Lincoln

Here's a poem by President Abraham Lincoln:

To Rosa—

You are young, and I am older;
You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
Pluck the roses ere they rot.

Teach your beau to heed the lay—
That sunshine soon is lost in shade—
That now's as good as any day—
To take thee, Rose, ere she fade.

Apparently Lincoln wrote this poem in 1858, for the daughter of a hotel proprietor.

As a writer, Lincoln tended to cut to the chase. The Gettysburg Address is a model of concision. The thesis of this one is pretty clear: "Rosa, induce your boyfriend to marry you--soon." "Pluck the roses ere they rot" delivers a punch. We're accustomed to seeing roses fade in poetry, but "rot" is less familiarly poetic in a poems comparing roses to women. Lincoln's legendary gloominess is apparent, too: "You are hopeful, I am not--." --And this was before the death of children and the disastrous early years of his first term as president, when the Civil War looked hopeless for the North, the abolitionists believed him to be too soft on slavery, and his Cabinet was a pit of snakes. (Gore Vidal's Lincoln is one of my favorite historical novels.)

The poem appears in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy Brasly. It also appears online on U.S. government sites.

I wonder how soon (or even whether) Rosa got married after reading this poem. I wonder what kind of poetry George W. Bush writes--or reads.
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