Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem, “Mortality,” was written by William Knox. About the ability to write poetry, Lincoln once claimed he would “give anything, even incur debt to be able to write poetry.”
The president’s poem, “My Childhood Home I See Again,” is one his most famous efforts. It is sectioned by cantos; ten stanzas comprise the first canto, and thirteen stanzas make up the second. Its rime scheme is a traditional ABAB.
First Canto: “My childhood’s home I see again”
The first canto begins with the speaker visiting the home where he grew up. His emotions overflow in sadness, yet he also discovers, “There's pleasure in it too.” The ambivalence surprises him memories flood his musing.
The speaker then begins to consider how memory functions, somewhere “midway world / 'Twixt earth and paradise.” He says that things “decay” while people we love are “lost / In dreamy shadows.” Continuing to must on the nature of memory, he notes that it changes scenes, “into an enchanted isle,” and those scenes are, “[a]ll bathed in liquid light,” yet memory also “hallow[s] all / We’ve known, but know no more.”
Stanzas 3-10 feature the speaker dramatizing his move away from childhood and his home. He noted that some of his friends have changed drastically with the speeding by of time. Many of those friends have died, yet others who made it through childhood have become “strong manhood gray.” The still living friends report to him the deaths of other friends. He visits old cornfields and his melancholy grows as these empty fields give him the feeling of “living in tombs,” which he rimes with “empty rooms.”
Second Canto: “But here's an object more of dread”
The speaker then begins the second canto, comparing the sadness of the grave with the sadness of one whose mind is gone while his body yet lives on: “But here's an object more of dread / Than ought the grave contains— / A human form with reason fled, / While wretched life remains.”
The speaker then dramatizes a sorrowful incident involving a young man he knew, Matthew Gentry. Matthew was a brilliant, young man, son of a well-heeled family, but at only nineteen years of age, he mysteriously went insane: “Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright, / A fortune-favored child— / Now locked for aye, in mental night, / A haggard mad-man wild.”
The remaining lines of the canto portray poor Matthew’s mad ranting, how he injured himself, battled with father, and almost killed his mother. The speaker ponders and contemplates while reporting each alarming event
In the final scene, the speaker personifies then addresses Death, asking Death why he snatches the wholesome and leaves this mentally malfunctioning “lingering”: “O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince, / That keepst the world in fear; / Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence, / And leave him ling'ring here?”
Abraham Lincoln genuinely loved poetry, which accounts for his dabbling at it. Despite his lack of confidence in his own poetic ability, the generations hence have demonstrated a continued interest in and love for the sixteenth president’s scribblings, deeming them poetry indeed.