Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mr. Lincoln's Mirror

© Steve King
All rights reserved

For years, my family kept an ancient stand
to guard the foyer of the old homestead.
It stood with brass fixtures and mottled glass
amid the shadows of the entry way.
I can remember hearing stories told
by white-haired women long enough in life
to have no time nor reason left to lie,
of how the stately piece had onetime stood
in Mr. Stanton's hallway through the war,
and how the president would stoop to don
that quaint, ungainly stovepipe that he wore,
and linger at the mirror 'til he found
the look that he would carry out the door.

I'd sit expectant in the darkened hall
and stare into the worn silver until
my eyes beheld his features staring back.
I built his form each time from memory:
a face that found its shape in deep-hewn lines;
the gangling frame, with hands that knew the feel
of something rougher than a cabinet brief;
the rounded shoulders, heavy then with grief,
perhaps as he set out for Gettysburgh...

At last, I'd find the caverns of his eyes.
I'd wonder how it was that mirror glass
could play such somber tricks with common light.
Peering through the solemn depths, I'd see
the dark and troubling vision that he kept,
and feel the flood of sadness that was said
to permeate much of his waking thought:
a melancholy that surpassed the heights
from which he looked upon his riven world;
not just a longing for a peaceful end
to the great madness that was going 'round,
nor dread about the outcome of the task,
or how he'd make the shattered pieces mend.
In the gathering shadows of the hall,
I came to feel the content of his fear:
he knew that he must always stand alone
against the currents of the parting time.
It was the solitude that haunted him,
the knowledge that he was the only one
to bear the onus of what must be done.

I would stay until the light had changed,
until the captive visage was exchanged
for my own features staring blankly on,
emerging by degree out from the shape
of the spirit whose eminence remained
then only as an accent to the shade,
submerging in the limitless fathoms
of imagined refractions in the glass.

Then would I find my solitary way
back through the light and noise that filled the house,
not wanting yet to share my reflections,
nor sure the image could supply the word.
I wondered how to speak of sadness then,
how I could find the way to willing hearers,
to say the tale of Mr. Lincoln's face,
and of the weight of shadows in a mirror.

(Note:  This is the very first poem I posted on Excursions and Diversions.  Long ago, in the course of my creative, though inexact, blog editing, I somehow managed to delete it.  I thought it was time it returned to its rightful home.)

A post for the Poetry Pantry


  1. So interesting that this had been the first poem you had posted in your blog; and a fine one at that! Very depthful and sombre poem. I am sure that there was much on Mr. Lincoln's mind when he looked into that mirror so long ago. I wonder what he would think of life as it is today.

  2. and you have found a way to tell of it....and many other things in your you found that original piece...interesting too thinking on lincolns mirror as he had to face so much...i wonder what he saw...smiles...

  3. A lovely piece, the gentle iambs working so well to tell the story of many leaders - yet turning it specific to the loneliness of doing what was right.. A mirror can be fascinating in the sense that some of it lights and shadows might be lingering within..

  4. A first poem, that's fantastic Steve! I spent a few hours when I did my first one before. But it was worth the efforts! And what would Lincoln think when looking in the mirror. He must be having a hard time with all the known challenges he had! Great!


  5. I love this portrait of the idea of him getting just right "the image he would carry out the door"....and that lonely pain in him, of knowing he was the only one to do what must be done. Awesome write! You made me see him, and know him better.

  6. "he knew that he must always stand alone
    against the currents of the parting time."... my fav wonderfully you've captivated that spirit of the great man...

  7. I love the story specially these lines:

    I came to feel the content of his fear:
    he knew that he must always stand alone
    against the currents of the parting time.
    It was the solitude that haunted him,
    the knowledge that he was the only one
    to bear the onus of what must be done.

    I am glad you reposted this Steve ~ Such a wonderful cadence all throughout ~

  8. this poem is so interesting ... I never thought of President Lincoln like that beforee!!!

  9. a captivating tale - loved the lines
    'and linger at the mirror 'til he found
    the look that he would carry out the door.'
    wonderful! K

  10. enjoyed the reading. Thanks for pulling it out :-)

  11. Your trope of fixing on a single item of furniture and expanding to include both historical and humanitarian associations is a very classical approach. This poem has a weight of intelligent observation and poetic empathy. I admire the thought process that went into its making.

  12. So glad you revisited this great piece and brought it back to share with us.You captured so well that lonliness of the great man in his monumental decisions..filled with torment and shadows. .Thanks much for this, Steve..~jackie~.

  13. I was captivated with Lincoln long before the movie frenzy of late.You capture this man so well through those haunted eyes of his that carried the price of every man ever lost to battle, and the shadows that were his alone to bear.I know I feel his presence whenever we visit the battlefields of Gettysburg, so I can just imagine his face reflecting in that mirror. This is truly a wonderful capture of that man, Steve. Thank you for reposting.

  14. " and linger at the mirror 'til he found
    the look that he would carry out the door..." the weight of that line is such an excellent lead-in to the deeper layers of personality(and commonality) you evoke here. That this poem emanates from a most common inanimate object and becomes alive in its own right is quite a feat, and the sensation of looking down into the soul, his, the narrator's, ones own, focuses the light within much as a magnifying glass concentrates that of the sun. Thanks for re-posting, Steve--a pleasure to read.

  15. A beautiful piece. Happy you found the original and re-posted it. A great capture.

  16. This is just a beautiful poem, Steve, with a very physical cadence and real vivid (even the imagined ones) images. What I like is not only the very sombre invocation of Lincoln, but the idea of the somewhat lonely seeming child--the slight edge of grandiosity of the child--or rather normal narcissism--the way that a child takes on a role, and usually a rather tragic one because of the drama involved in that. There is a certain kind of artistic/sensitive child, I mean, who may sometimes choose an Erroll Flynn type hero, but who is far far more likely to choose a hero who has had to grapple with the misunderstanding of the world, in very big ways, since, of course that is what the child is grappling with in their own riven world. At any rate, I found that aspect of the poem especially compelling,, though the portrait of Lincoln is also very beautifully told and beautiful. Thanks--as Hedge says--a real pleasure to read. K. (I think I am subscribed to you but I don't always see when something shows up, ss not sure it comes to my email the right way, so do give me a shout if you can remember.) I'll check subscription also. k.

    1. PS sorry for typos and lack of grammar in comments. I am on an iPad at a hotelly place in the City, and my faulty vision makes it a bit hard to see the screen the way I have it set up here. k.

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  18. Back for another read from the Pantry and got even more out of it this time. I especially like the old women who no longer have the time or reason to lie, and how the grief weighed on his shoulders, feeling alone in what needed to be done. Wonderfully written!

  19. Steve, this was so well-written in iambic and was so easy to read--like a story replete with history. Lincoln, such a powerful figure--and yet so accessible. I love imagining him in relation to this artifact. What a treasure--the object and the poem. Glad you brought it home again.