Lincoln Discussion Symposium

Full Version: Abraham Lincoln Suicide Poem?
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Joshua Speed told William Herndon in 1865 that Lincoln had written a poem about suicide that was published in the Sangamo Journal. Herndon searched for it, but he never found it.

Then, about 10-15 years ago, author Richard Lawrence Miller noticed an unsigned poem titled "The Suicide’s Soliloquy" in the August 25, 1838, edition of the Sangamo Journal. The paper explained that the note was found by the unidentified bones of an apparent suicide located near the Sangamon River.

Since then historians are divided - some think this is indeed the poem Speed told Herndon about. The poem is in Joshua Shenk's book about Lincoln and depression, and Shenk writes, "Without an original manuscript or a letter in which ownership is claimed, no unsigned piece can be attributed definitely to an author. But the context points strongly to Lincoln."

I am including the words here and wondering if any forum members have an opinion on Lincoln possibly being the author.

The Suicide's Soliloquy

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o'er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens' cry.

Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I'll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never know;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I'm prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn'd on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from out of your sheath,
And glist'ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last-my only friend!
Pretty gruesome!

Whoever wrote this was definitely depressed! If a young Lincoln did compose this after Ann's death, I'm glad that he recovered! It seems to be a definite indication of a "cry for help." Or perhaps simply writing this bit was therapeutic in itself....
I agree with Betty,a "cry for help and therapy".Depression is like one big black hole that you can't climb out of.Every part of you aches and it hurts to walk.Having been there myself when my wife died,you have to decide to move forward.Now,I am proud to say that they have asked me to be a mentor for people who have lost a loved one! I do not think those techniques and resources were there for people in the 1800's.
Three arguments given by Joshua Shenk that Lincoln probably wrote this are (from p. 41 of Lincoln's Melancholy): (1) it has the same meter as Lincoln’s other published verse; (2) it is close to the date given by Speed when he told Herndon about it; (3) its syntax, tone, reasoning, and references are characteristic of Lincoln.

Personally, I am going to straddle the middle on this. I have no strong feeling either way whether Lincoln wrote it. He was prone to periods of depression, so it's possible he did write it I suppose.
Thanks, Roger, for posting the poem. No matter who wrote it, it gives insight into the despair of the depressed person that most of us cannot begin to understand. Perhaps you have read of the recent suicide of Tony Scott. One of his last film projects was National Geographic's Killing Lincoln.

I hope with understanding comes compassion for Mr. Scott, Mary Richardson Kennedy and all others who suffer deeply from this affliction.

And Herb is so right that there was little hope for people who suffered from depression in the early days. Even into the mid-1900s, it was looked upon with disdain - why can't you pull yourself together and move on? God bless modern medicine.

One can also hope that Lincoln's bouts with depression served to make him understand the deep wounds that families felt on both sides during the Civil War. Maybe out of depression comes compassion.
I believe the poem was simply a literary exercise by Lincoln. At that time he was a member of a writers group in Springfield, and members shared their productions with one another. Revealing intimate thought to the public, even anonymously, would have been contrary to his personality, even if his mood were bleak at the time the poem was written. But sharing a work in which he felt pride would have been comfortable for him, even though he didn't take public credit for his poetry.

Regarding that, perhaps he felt that writing poetry would have been inconsistent with a public reputation as a tough politician. Indeed, political consequences of publishing a poem that expressed suicidal thoughts are another reason to believe the poem wasn't autobiographical, even if his own experiences with depression helped provide the poem's emotional power.

Note, too, that at the poem's conclusion the narrator reports that he has committed suicide, another reason that the item shouldn't be taken literally as Lincoln speaking about himself. Dead men tell no tales.

For more, see pages 224 and following in volume two of my Lincoln and His World.
Thank you for an excellent and thoughtful post, Richard, and welcome to our new Lincoln discussion group!
That poem is wonderful- it's very Edgar Allan Poe-esque. It would be great to know for sure if Lincoln wrote it.

If both he and Mary suffered depression, I wonder if it ran in their family through generations. Did Robert have depressive tendencies too?
Regarding Lincoln and suicide-there is the oft mentioned "suicide" episode of his where his pocketknife had to be taken away from him to prevent self-harm. Sounds like something that probably didn't really happen. Do we know the original source for this account?
I believe it was Herndon and Joshua Speed
I am the screenwriter of "Saving Lincoln," a new feature film about Lincoln's conflicted tenure as Commander-in-Chief, as told by his close friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon. An important theme in our movie is Lincoln's struggle with crippling depression. Lamon was a garrulous banjo-player and joke-teller - one of the ways he served Lincoln was by entertaining him and lifting his spirits. Lincoln may or may not have been suicidal... but he did place himself directly in the line of fire at Fort Stevens on July 11 and 12, 1864. Lincoln at Fort Stevens is a crucial scene in "Saving Lincoln."
Is that the incident where Lincoln was pulled down out of the line of fire by Oliver W. Holmes?
LincolnMan: Yes, that is the incident, although it wasn't Oliver Wendell Holmes who actually pulled him out of the line of fire. OWH was the one who gave the order: "Get that damn fool in a stovepipe hat off my parapet!" (he didn't know it was the President!)
(08-31-2012 12:47 AM)ninabeth13 Wrote: [ -> ]LincolnMan: Yes, that is the incident, although it wasn't Oliver Wendell Holmes who actually pulled him out of the line of fire. OWH was the one who gave the order: "Get that damn fool in a stovepipe hat off my parapet!" (he didn't know it was the President!)

Who was the soldier who actually pulled Lincoln down then?
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