Saturday, July 16, 2005
Summer Leave and Lincoln
(UPDATE: As a I finish this draft of a post I started at the beginning of leave, I am now in yet another multi-day holding pattern as I attempt top return, somewhere short of Iraq. More perhaps in a subsequent post.)
I took Sandberg's Lincoln with me for the rather extended travel phase of my leave, and he does not disappoint, and I have unbroken opportunity to not disappoint my own entertainment in his prose. Sandberg is of old schools, both of history and biography, and I suppose his own strong sense of poetry more than affects his work with Lincoln.
He sticks closely to his subject. He "embeds" himself in Lincoln's daily political life in working for the causes of the Whigs, a party shortly to fade into history, and forming the ideological and emotional center of the new cause to emerge as the Republican Party. There are fine details of city and statehouse politics, of picuine and tiny matters of jurisprudence of subtstance only yo those in litigation or under charges. There are many fine moments of the definition of the man that history would come to know as Lincoln, but first as "Old" or "Honest" or "Old Honest Abe."
And through this narrative the poetry of Lincoln's own narrative is what springs from the page, not Sandberg's verse. This is Lincoln's legacy, and Sandberg's virtue. Only the occasional flourish as he end's one chapter and presages the next, does Sandberg's own poetic voice murmur an occasional "thus it was."
Sandberg, in this perhaps his greatest effort, reminds me of my Great Grandfather, Carl S. Gray. My memories are as much family lore as first hand experience, as he passed away in my early youth. But what a legacy he left for his surviving family. He was born in the 1880's as I recall the story, and was as fascinating figure as my family had to offer. He wrote and prepared bound copies of poetry, contributing verse to collections with names such as Poets on the Prairie, but to make a living served in government, did a stint as Justice of the Peace, sold insurance, and spent years on a translation of Friederich Schindler's Willem Tell from the German. He spent his last years correcting errors he sought and found in the many crossword puzzles in regional publications.
I met Great Grandpa Gray on at least two occasions that I recall. Tall (at least to me) and thin, with a rather high pitched and raspy voice. My memories of Grandpa Gray reflect a last, stubborn strand of connection my family's Midwest legacy, a legacy that has sadly ben all but forgotten. In Sandberg's Lincoln, page upon page of the thought and life patterns of Lincoln's world capture vivid if fading glimpses of the near American Frontier as it passed into history.
These glimpses of life as it was are what strum so strongly on the chords of my sympathies.
Near the beginning of Lincoln, Sandberg describes the early Lincoln:
In the small clique of Springfield Whigs who had come to wield party controls, the opposition dubbed Lincoln the "Goliath of the Junto" (River). On streets, in crowds or gatherings, Lincoln's tall frame stood out. He was noticed, pointed out, questions asked about him. He couldn't slide into any group of standing people without all eyes finding out he was there. His head surmounting a group was gaunt and strange, onlookers remembering the high cheekbones, deep eye sockets, the coarse black hair bushy and tangled, the nose large and well shaped, the wide full-lipped mouth of many subtle changes from straight face to wide beaming smile. He was loose-jointed and comic with appeals in street-corner slang and dialect from the public square hitching-posts; yet at moments he was as strange and far-off as the last dark sands of a red sunset, solemn as naked facts of death and hunger. He was a seeker. Among others and deep in his own self, he was a seeker.Perhaps there are some family resemblances, perhaps I am just overly nostalgic for an America that once was, but I think My Great Grandpa was a seeker, too.
And in learning more about Sandberg's Lincoln and his prairie roots, I learn something about my own past that has slid away from the memory of spoken word.
NEXT: Thoughts on the building threat to the Union and Lincoln's initial steps towards immortality.
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