by Roon Lewald
So pensively he sits, still brooding over us,
that gangling hicktown lawyer of so many
faults and doubts, bearing in his shaggy head
such greatness that, amid the clamour
of divergent reasons for the war,
he seized unerringly and steadfastly pursued
his divided nation’s one abiding Cause: Union.
Daring not to split his flock, the embattled leader
shelved the most divisive issue: Abolition.
But once the victory tide at Shiloh swept him
on to Gettysburg, Old Abe was free to set the goal
most worthy of his cause: the end of slavery.
Clearly he was Destiny’s man, devising –
even as the final battles raged –
new civic decencies for a reunited nation
and perhaps for all the world,
for centuries to come.
But on that fatal night in Ford’s Theatre,
Destiny discarded him and spat
into the waiting cradle of Reunion.
God in heaven, to what end?
To make the assassin’s shot re-echo still,
reminding all inheritors of Lincoln’s dream
that it outlived his bullet-ravaged brain…?
But that its faulty execution requires them
ever to be staunch in mending and improving it?
But tell me this:
If vengeful Northerners had not killed
the dreamer’s plan to reconstruct the South,
thus locking half the nation into bitter penury,
ignorance, despair and degradation;
and had the great man’s vision
of a prospering, enlightened South
come to pass –
Tell me, my God,
would not the twisted social mores
of the ruined slave states have evolved
more swiftly towards humaner values?
And would not, in a more fortunate South,
Martin Luther King have lived to see
the full fruition of his healing Dream?
6 April 2004