Replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens statue of Abraham Lincoln placed at Parliament Square in 1920.
Gravity pulling his flesh tired I feel;
Hearing not car noise, through his ears I hear
Armies' distant news, Potomac cannon
Thumping flatly; mortars I feel shock,
Pulsing the ground with their questions.
Lincoln is a church, under his arching nod
Gathers children, tourists, flocking pigeons;
In this Spring: daffodils, mute horns blowing.
Photograph of the Standing Lincoln from Wikipedia.
I composed this poem in 1975, while living in London with my wife and daughter. I was taking a red double-decker bus to the Natural History museum, sitting in the open upper deck, when it went around the circus at Parliament Square. I did not know there was a Lincoln statue beside the Square. I was completely surprised and deeply moved. It was Spring. An orderly planting of daffodils in yellow bloom decorated the plot beneath the pedestal on which the statue stands.
I wrote the poem after only a glimpse of the great sculpture. For some reason, I did not return to study the statue, as I was doing other great outdoor pieces, notes about which I recorded in my journal (reprinted in this blog). Reading the poem, for the quality of which I make no case, I can see, in retrospect, the influence of Robert Lowell's poetry in it, especially Lowell's "For the Union Dead," which builds on another great sculpture by Saint-Gaudens, the monumental memorial to Col. Shaw that stands across from the Massachusetts State House in Boston. I visited the Shaw memorial often, for the first time when I was in college in 1961. Later, I took both of my young children to see it and photographed them in front of it. (Below. My daughter in upper right image in 1976, my son in lower left at left end of bench in 1993 [unknown girl at right end].) I framed the photographs and hung the picture on the wall near the front door to our house, a reminder of the moral imperative under which we live.
Below is August Saint-Gaudens' memorial to Col. Shaw, depicted in my photographs above. From my adolescence, I had been moved by the moral struggle in the American Civil War. My maternal grandmother's father enlisted in the Civil War, serving in the New Hampshire Quartermaster Corps. At the end of the 1890s, always a patriot and admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, in his late fifties he enlisted to serve, again in the New Hampshire Quartermaster Corps, in the Spanish-American war. My grandmother left his officer's wardrobe to my father, who was named for him, and my father left it to me. He carried the chest in both the Civil and Spanish American wars. Today, it rests in my dining room and holds table linens. I think about my great grandfather, the moral causes for which he fought, every time I open the trunk.
Photograph of the Col. Shaw from Wikipedia.