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Abraham Lincoln. Library of Congress, Words and Deeds in American History Collection Alternate: The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the cabinet

[Detail] The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation

Nineteenth-Century Poetry

After Lincoln's assassination, in addition to decking their cities in black, many people also wrote poems for the occasion and displayed them in the windows of their homes. Poetry was a very popular and public art form during the nineteenth century, and it was often used to commemorate a particular occasion or event.

Search on poem for 35 examples of Victorian poetry, including "My Child-hood Home I See Again" by Lincoln. Many handwritten poems were written personally to Lincoln, while he also received a few printed pieces, including an inaugural poem from 1865. Frank Wells sent Lincoln a patriotic poem, which Lincoln judged to be "Pretty fair poetry" according to a note on the envelope. Lincoln also received patriotic poems from an African-American soldier and a man named Barry Gray, who celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation:

"Not often unto mortal is it given —
Whate'er his worldy rank or state may be —
The power, sustained by principle and truth,
To set, as Lincoln did, a people free.
He was ordained to do this Christlike deed,
To snap the bonds of slavery apart,
To break the chains which held the negro down,
And draw the iron from his bleeding heart.
This Proclamation, stamped with his strong will,
This writ of Freedom, sealed by his firm hand,
This last, great act, Emancipation's prayer,
Freeing all bonds men living in the land,
Will cause Humanity throughout the world,
To bless and honor Abraham Lincoln's name,
And, more than marble fane or statue could,
Will crown his memory with enduring fame."

From "Barry Gray to Abraham Lincoln, January 1863 (Poem celebrating Emancipation Proclamation)."

  • What kind of imagery appears in patriotic poems of Lincoln's time? What is the tempo of these poems?
  • How do these poems depict Lincoln, his physical appearance, his achievements, his personal qualities, and his relationship to God and country?
  • What comparisons and metaphors are used to depict Lincoln and what do they suggest about him?
  • How do these poems depict slavery and the South?
  • Do you think that Gray's poem celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation accurately portrays the significance and history of the proclamation? Does it accurately portray Lincoln?
  • Why do you think that poetry is a less popular and public art form today?
  • What is the role of poetry in contemporary United States culture?