Monday, November 29, 2010

Tuesday Poem; Anne Rutledge by Lee Masters

There are two poems on this blog today

Anne Rutledge

Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
'With malice toward none, with charity for all.'
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficient face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!

Edgar Lee Masters

There is a traditional story that Anne Rutledge was Abraham Lincoln’s first sweetheart. She died young, leaving him so the legend says heart-broken. Historians argue over the facts. But on her Illinois grave this poem of Lee Masters has been engraved on the granite monument.

For years I found it hard to understand the reverence that Americans had for Abe. That is until I read Jan Morris’s life of the great man during the summer of 2000/2001. We were house-sitting in a place with a lovely garden in Ponsonby. Here’s a poem I wrote after reading the book.

Reading Jan Morris' Life Of Lincoln In Anglesea Street, January 2001

The Herald has two pages of world
news and six of sport. Each morning
I dehead Jill & David's Mutabilis
rose & savour the serenity of their
bougainvillaea-shrouded veranda
(Scarlet O'Hara), very distant the city's
hum. Morris toyed with calling the book
Grape Jelly, one of her first two dislikes
in the USA, the other, the extensive
reverence for Abe. Now she too
embraces the Gettysburg greatness.
Mythical might be the log cabin but
that address endures from a man
kind to kittens & his dim-witted son;
a gawky, laconic politician, who took
courage for granted, whose time saw
one of the bloodiest combats ever.
The prose glitters in praise of his prowess.
Their lettuce & parsley have run to seed.
A person rather uncomfortable with himself
but at ease with his mission. Apparently,
at present the Earth rushes away
from the sun at 108,000 kilometres an
hour. An unconvincing fact to someone 
at ease in a cane chair in peaceful Ponsonby.
He fastened in the America psyche the idea
that right has might and is therefore invincible.
Historians now reappraise, Viet Nam
napalmed doubt into the nation, but
someone better tell George W. for
Roman heroics still brawl on Capitol Hill.
Midday sun and I'm in the shade with
this gem of a book hurling the brain
out of its neutral summer lassitude
while leaving the body still in a
state of contented disengagement. .

At the Gettysburg opening of the war cemetery the speaker before Lincoln spoke for nearly two hours. When Lincoln got up to speak the cameraman took his time to get organised. Lincoln had finished his 147 words before the man had his mechanism lined up. So no photo exists of the famous occasion.

A moving moment in my life was a visit to the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC on Veteran’s Day. It’s a blot on our education system that our kids leave school knowing about Stalin and Hitler, Gladstone and Disraeli but very little about Lincoln. That combination of ‘might’ and ‘right’ seems to me crucial in understanding modern America.


  1. Thanks for posting these two poems, Harvey. The dalliance between the discussion of Lincoln and the state of a summer garden was delightful! I particularly enjoyed the shift from the 'bloodiest combats' to the 'lettuce and parsley gone to seed'. And, I, too, despair over the unequal state of the world news pages in comparison to the sports!

  2. A rich post, Harvey, that opens many doors - thank you. I, too, enjoy the way you weave the activity of your head with that of your hands and eyes in the garden, especially (as Elizabeth also noted!) these lines -

    ". . . The prose glitters in praise of his prowess.
    Their lettuce & parsley have run to seed.
    A person rather uncomfortable with himself
    but at ease with his mission. . . "

    And I agree with you, Harvey, it IS a blot on our education system that our children know virtually nothing about Lincoln when they leave school. There's an unfortunate dearth when it comes to teaching about African states, too. Ideally, compassion for humanity is what will blaze the way, joining some of these dots and filling in the gaps. As for the focus on sports over international news? Harrumph.

    I so enjoy coming to your blog - Claire.