Stephen Vincent Benet’s Description of Abraham Lincoln

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From John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet:

 

Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,

The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,

Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves’

Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,

Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field-

Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down

The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,

And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay

As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine

Plutarchan sentences carved in Latin bronze;

The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,

The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,

State-character but comparative failure at forty

In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,

Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,

And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:

This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,

Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches

Which make the monumental booming of Webster

Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

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