The Long Shadow of Lincoln: A Litany

By Carl Sandburg 1878–1967 Carl Sandburg

(We can succeed only by concert. . . . The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves. . . . December 1, 1862. The President’s Message to Congress.)

Be sad, be cool, be kind,
remembering those now dreamdust
hallowed in the ruts and gullies,
solemn bones under the smooth blue sea,
faces warblown in a falling rain.

Be a brother, if so can be,
to those beyond battle fatigue
each in his own corner of earth
      or forty fathoms undersea
      beyond all boom of guns,
      beyond any bong of a great bell,
      each with a bosom and number,
      each with a pack of secrets,
each with a personal dream and doorway
and over them now the long endless winds
      with the low healing song of time,
      the hush and sleep murmur of time.

Make your wit a guard and cover.
Sing low, sing high, sing wide.
Let your laughter come free
remembering looking toward peace:
“We must disenthrall ourselves.”

Be a brother, if so can be,
to those thrown forward
for taking hardwon lines,
for holding hardwon points
      and their reward so-so,
little they care to talk about,
their pay held in a mute calm,
highspot memories going unspoken,
what they did being past words,
what they took being hardwon.
      Be sad, be kind, be cool.
          Weep if you must
      And weep open and shameless
          before these altars.

There are wounds past words.
There are cripples less broken
than many who walk whole.
      There are dead youths
      with wrists of silence
      who keep a vast music
      under their shut lips,
what they did being past words,
their dreams like their deaths
beyond any smooth and easy telling,
having given till no more to give.

      There is dust alive
with dreams of The Republic,
with dreams of the Family of Man
flung wide on a shrinking globe
      with old timetables,
      old maps, old guide-posts
      torn into shreds,
      shot into tatters
      burnt in a firewind,
      lost in the shambles,
      faded in rubble and ashes.

      There is dust alive.
Out of a granite tomb,
Out of a bronze sarcophagus,
Loose from the stone and copper
Steps a whitesmoke ghost
Lifting an authoritative hand
In the name of dreams worth dying for,
In the name of men whose dust breathes
      of those dreams so worth dying for,
what they did being past words,
beyond all smooth and easy telling.

Be sad, be kind, be cool,
remembering, under God, a dreamdust
hallowed in the ruts and gullies,
solemn bones under the smooth blue sea,
faces warblown in a falling rain.

Sing low, sing high, sing wide.
Make your wit a guard and cover.
Let your laughter come free
like a help and a brace of comfort.

      The earth laughs, the sun laughs
over every wise harvest of man,
over man looking toward peace
by the light of the hard old teaching:
      “We must disenthrall ourselves.”

Carl Sandburg, “The Long Shadow of Lincoln: A Litany” from The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. Copyright © 1970 by Carl Sandburg. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1970)

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Poet Carl Sandburg 1878–1967

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Heroes & Patriotism