Vachel Lindsay wrote of Abraham Lincoln in India

Vachel Lindsay Home, Springfield


I purchased a book The Litany of Washington Street by Vachel Lindsay in an antique store today for fifty cents.  It is a first edition-dated 1929.  The book is made up of various writings of Mr. Lindsay. One of the articles that caught my eye had to do with a fantasy piece of Lincoln visiting India. The writing had appeared originally in The English Journal (Chicago).  Lindsay called the article an “oration” -and titled it: A Vision, Called: “Lincoln in India.” It’s a bizarre bit of writing, actually. We know Abraham Lincoln never went to India. Lindsay created a being named The Ancient Mariner-Fiddler in the story-who served to guide the reader through the vision.

The Ancient Mariner-Fiddler gave assurance that “Abraham Lincoln hangs on the walls of all the really zealous of all factions.”  That statement led into the telling of Lincoln in India.  He claimed that Lincoln’s soul was standing on the banks of the Ganges at Benares.

I will type in bold the material pertaining to Lincoln. The following is taken directly from Lindsay’s work:

“We are at a great bend in the river where the steps for the holy bathers in the stream make an amphitheatre, a coliseum. And behind the innumerable steps, behind the highest tiers, rise temples of all the sects of the whole world. Lincoln stands high in the center of the assembly, with his old umbrella and his battered silk hat. He wears the same old flapping duster, at his feet is the old valise. He is surrounded completely by a ring of Brahmans and scholars and the rich from all the world who consider themselves Brahmans-and with them, squeezed among them, their pet genealogizers, chronologers, biographers. They keep chanting with Brahman calm, “He is a Brahman, he is one of us!”

Then comes the ring of Kshatiyas, the warriors, demanding entrance into the inner ring, clashing their hissing swords and saying, ‘He is a warrior; he is one of us! He is not a Brahman, not a priest! He is descended from Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Kublai Khan, the Grand Moguls!”

Then comes a ring of the next caste, the Vaisyas, the merchants and husbandmen, saying, ‘He was a merchant at New Salem, and a rail-splitter and plowboy in his youth; he is a Vaisya. He is not a Brahman, nor a Kshatiya, he is one of us!’ This ring is larger; there are more of these people, for they do the work for the inner rings.

Outside of all these, is a ring of the lowest caste of all, craning their necks to see the tall Lincoln and his queer regalia. This is a ring of the Sudras, of the mechanics and laborers, occupations of all that are still tolerated, and these say: “By his own words, his annals are the short and simple annals of the poor; he is not a Brahman, a Kshatiya, or a Vaisya. He always said he was a Sudra; he always said he was one of us.’

But what is this throng crowding the Ganges, stepping into the water, or at the very top of the amphitheatre of shore-steps, or on the peaks of the highest semicircle of buildings, with uplifted arms, frantic, rebellious against the only caste system still on earth, craning their necks to look at the tall Lincoln?

These are the scavengers, the Pariahs, the outcasts, the men from the dust of the dust, the servants of the lowest. Their manner lacks repose; those on the steps of the far temples are throwing dust and straw on their heads; tearing their garments; shouting to drown out all others.

“There will be a wild religious battle on the banks of the Ganges, as there has been many a time before.”

But suddenly there is a path made; up from the waters of the Ganges like an apparition, up the stone steps of the bank, with a shaky tread, comes a woman, worn and bowed. They must all make way for her. There must be silence. Lincoln takes off his hat and bows his head, and waits for her.

She comes to her son and says to them all,  “I am his mother.  …He was born, with tears, in the dust.‘  And the circles completely change, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and the Brahmans take the place of the Pariahs, and the Pariahs take the place of the Brahmans, and the weak things of the world are chosen to confound the mighty.

One who is full of grace, remembering a dusty stable in Bethlehem and her Child in the straw, drops a rose leaf for Nancy Hanks from the glittering uttermost heavens, saying, in a whisper like one ray of a day-star, ‘She was his mother. He was born in the dust.’ ”


Thus ended the first of the “thousand and one stories” told to Lindsay by The Ancient Mariner. I’m fascinated by Lindsay’s way of portraying Lincoln for “everyman.”  Of course, it’s a theme well known in the Lincoln world. Also the Mother Mary and Nancy Hanks imagery with their sons Jesus and Abraham is very interesting-and also not unknown theretofore.

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