Hidden Springs, Delicate Wheels: Mrs. Lincoln's Discomfort

His presidency was much like our marriage:
he held it as a sacred trust and duty,
humble before it and upright in carriage.
But always distant was the joy and beauty,
always somehow removed in time, concealed
beneath a graveyard, then a battlefield.
He was wrong:  she was not out there alone
(thus, he was often upset by foul weather,
westward):  for underneath that small headstone,
he had interred, for all those years, his heart---
the whole for her, Ann Rutledge!, and no part
for me (not even for a little while).
And, at his last breath, came the final smile,
now that they were, again . . . ever . . . together.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

The poem alludes to Lincoln's great love for Ann Rutledge, and its termination (by her death) as the cause of his abiding melancholy.  In the aftermath of her death, he was known to be distressed by nightfall or bad weather, thinking that she was---as he put it---"out there all alone."  According to some accounts, at his last drawn breath, on the morning after the assassination, he smiled broadly and then expired; and I believe (and herein is the poem's only original concept) that, upon his entrance into Heaven, Christ gave him the privilege that Ann was the first person he saw there.

The romance was first proposed by William Herndon, Lincoln's former law partner and first biographer.  Herndon's work was later attacked by scholars on the basis, as far as I can tell in my reading, of four points:  1.) that he manufactured it; 2) that it was provided by oral written recollection rather than objective documentation; 3) that, being a part-time drunk, his research was unreliable; and 4) that his primary motive was to embarrass Mary Lincoln, the slain President's widow.  I offer the following responses to these points.  Obviously, the first and second points cancel each other out.  In regard to the first point, Herndon's several correspondents already knew of the romance (although Herndon, himself, also knew of it directly from Lincoln).  Second, oral history is neither unreliable, nor assailable for its own sake, as it is also the source of at least one of the Gospels (Luke's, cf. Luke 1:2) and is also cited as authoritative in Hebrews 2:1 and 3.  Third, Herndon's problem with alcohol is documented, but if I had, for example, discounted from my college experience any information provided by a drunk, I would not have had enough credits to obtain a degree.  Fourth, Herndon's desire to embarrass Mrs. Lincoln is also documented, but, while personally questionable, it does not make the romance either the purpose or the centerpiece of his years of research (which was motivated, as he proved, by a desire simply to gather every possible account of every possible moment of Lincoln's life).

As a poet, however, and not a professional scholar, I believe we can profitably accuse certain professional historians of extreme bias against Ann Rutledge, virtually victimizing her in order to punish Herndon for his shortcomings (of which he had several), or in a kind of chivalrous defense of Mrs. Lincoln's status.

In this poem, and my others on Ann Rutledge, I acknowledge, and gladly defer to, the poet Edgar Lee Masters, whose epitaph for Ann, published in The Spoon River Anthology, is one of the greatest poetic statements ever written.

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