In the fall of 1844 a thirty-five-year-old lawyer from Springfield, Illinois, returned after an absence of nearly fifteen years to Spencer County, Indiana, to campaign in behalf of Presidential candidate Henry Clay. He had lived in the county—in the Pigeon Creek neighborhood—from the time he was almost nine years old until he was twenty-one, years of his life that later became legendary when the gangly, rustic youth himself became President of the United States. His mother and only sister were buried there. It was a part of the country that, he wrote, “is, within itself, as unpoetical as any spot of the earth; but still, seeing it and its objects and inhabitants aroused feelings in me which were certainly poetry. …” More than a year later, in late February of 1846, Abraham Lincoln put into verse the thoughts inspired by that visit. His eloquent poem, entitled “My Childhood-Home I See Again,” was brought to our attention by Jack LaZebnik, chairman of the English department at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri.
My childhood-home I see again , And gladden with the view ; And still as mem’ries crowd my brain , There’s sadness in it too .
O memory! thou mid-way world ’ Twixt Earth and Paradise , Where things decayed, and loved ones lost In dreamy shadows rise .
And freed from all that’s gross or vile , Seem hallowed, pure, and bright , Like scenes in some enchanted isle , All bathed in liquid light .
As distant mountains please the eye , When twilight chases day — As bugle-tones, that, passing by , In distance die away —
As leaving some grand water-fall We ling’ring, list it’s roar , So memory will hallow all We’ve known, but know no more .
Now twenty years have passed away , Since here I bid farewell To woods, and fields, and scenes of play And school-mates loved so well .
Where many were, how few remain Of old familiar things! But seeing these to mind again The lost and absent brings .
The friends I left that parting day — How changed, as time has sped! Young childhood grown, strong manhood grey , And half of all are dead .
I hear the lone survivors tell How nought from death could save , Till every sound appears a knell , And every spot a grave .
I range the fields with pensive tread , And pace the hollow rooms ; And feel (companion of the dead) I’m living in the tombs .