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  • Kathleen Lees

Reading, writing, & more reading

Updated: Feb 25



In class, we have a newspaper called "Easy English News." It's specifically geared toward adult immigrants who are learning English, and it discusses current events all over the country.


In addition, it also covers events and famous people in history. In October, the newspaper mentioned Columbus Day, but also provided the new, correct title of Indigenous Peoples' Day. (I further compensate by providing my own perspective on what is accurate based on current readings--covering any confusion that students may have.)


Knowing about these things isn't crucial for success in the United States. Students are here to learn English. However, this knowledge is extremely helpful, and I can easily incorporate grammar and style into lessons. This makes classes more interesting and less dry. I also encourage students to provide their own perspectives on anything we learn that isn't just basic language. This is also essential for any students who are working to become citizens or who may become citizens in the future.


February is an extremely important month. Many know it simply for Valentine's Day, Groundhog Day, or as one of the remaining months of winter. But it's also Black History Month and Presidents' Day--something that we talked a lot about in both of my classes.


If you saw a new section of my website, you may have noticed I reviewed a book on Abraham Lincoln. I didn't pick that book purposely to read and review during this month. In fact, the next book I'm reading is not related to any holiday or month... I'm just simply reading it because I heard about it as a top 10 book to read from a New York Times' podcast for 2021, and it intrigued me.


The way I discovered "Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times," by David S. Reynolds was simply that I saw it, rather majestically, sitting up in a Barnes and Noble display while I was Christmas shopping in mid-December. (And I didn't even buy it until later because I didn't have enough money.)


In any case, just for pleasure, a new part of my blog (as time allows), will be writing reviews of things I read in the book portion of the website. And I'll share a blog post or two at times of things I really liked about the book that didn't quite fit in the review.


Abraham Lincoln Was Also a Poet

It's probably no surprise that Lincoln suffered from depression. Whether that was due to the death of his mother and sister at a young age as well as the death of possible romantic interest and friend Ann Rutledge, or both, is difficult to say. However, he liked to write poetry, and Reynolds suggests that he used it as a way to combat his grief.


I personally loved hearing this, (and gained a little crush on him after reading it,)


Below is my favorite poem he wrote, which is believed to be regarding sadness over the death of his mother and sister.


"My Childhood Home I See Again "

My childhood home I see again, 
    And sadden with the view; 
And still, as memory crowds my brain, 
    There's pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world 
    'Twixt earth and paradise, 
Where things decayed and loved ones lost 
    In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that's earthly vile, 
    Seem hallowed, pure, and bright, 
Like scenes in some enchanted isle 
    All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye 
    When twilight chases day; 
As bugle-notes that, passing by, 
    In distance die away;

As leaving some grand waterfall, 
    We, lingering, list its roar— 
So memory will hallow all 
    We've known, but know no more.

Near twenty years have passed away 
    Since here I bid farewell 
To woods and fields, and scenes of play, 
    And playmates loved so well.

Where many were, but few remain 
    Of old familiar things; 
But seeing them, to mind again 
    The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day, 
    How changed, as time has sped! 
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray, 
    And half of all are dead.

I hear the loved survivors tell 
    How nought from death could save, 
Till every sound appears a knell, 
    And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread, 
    And pace the hollow rooms, 
And feel (companion of the dead) 
    I'm living in the tombs.

A more famous poem further highlights the deep depression that Lincoln dealt with on and off throughout his life. This particular poem is believed to have been written about Lincoln's depression regarding the death of Ann Rutledge. (However, it's still debated whether Lincoln or someone else actually wrote this poem.)


It was anonymously published in The Sangamo Journal, a Whig-newspaper in Springfield, Illinois. The journal introduced the piece as having been found "near the bones of a man supposed to have committed suicide, in a deep forest."


"The Suicide's Soliloquy"

Here where the lonely hooting owl 
    Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o'er my carcase growl 
    Or buzzards pick my bones. 
    
 No fellow-man shall learn my fate, 
     Or where my ashes lie;
 Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,   
    Or by the ravens' cry.   
    
 Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
     And the place to do it:
 This heart I'll rush a dagger through,  
    Though I in hell should rue it!  
    
  Hell! What is hell to one like me,
     Who pleasures never know;
  By friends consigned to misery  
     By hope deserted too?  
    
   To ease me of this power to think 
     That through my bosom raves,
   I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,  
     And wallow in its waves.  
     
   Though devils yell, and burning chains
     May waken long regret;
   Their frightful screams, and piercing pains, 
     Will help me to forget.   
     
   Yes! I'm prepared, through endless night.
     To take that fiery berth!
   Think not with tales of hell to fright 
     Me, who am damn'd on earth!  
     
   Sweet steel! come forth from out your sheath. 
     And glist'ning, speak your powers;
   Rip up the organs of my breath, 
     And draw my blood in showers! 
     
    I strike! It quivers in that heart
     Which drives me to this end;
   I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
     My last--my only friend!   
    

Numerous authors influenced him

I talked about this in my review, but not as much as I wanted to: it just didn't fit. Yet so many authors of his time and even before his time influenced him.


Despite a lack of formal education, Lincoln read everything. This definitely influenced his writing--from his poetry to the professional political speeches he made.


For instance, the word "dagger" was not popular in the 1830s, which was when his poem "The Suicide Soliloquy" was created. However, those closest to him knew that Lincoln was fascinated by William Shakespeare's "Macbeth," which incorporates many scenes involving a dagger.


Authors of the time that influenced Lincoln with similar morbid tendencies included Edgar Allen Poe, with poems like the "The Raven," among others.


Despite his overwhelming depression, Lincoln also had a satirical side and a professional side.


His sense of humor reflected much of the witty and sometimes grotesque temperaments of the time. This included pieces like Lord Byron's "Don Jon.," which may have influenced some of Lincoln's storytelling.


Yet some of his most famous speeches were influenced by texts as old as "Aesop's Fables" and certain sections of the Bible.



Final thoughts

A lot of people have said that if this is your first presidential biography on Abraham Lincoln, it's better to start with something smaller. After all, this book is 1,066 pages long.


I disagree.


You need all these extra details to fall in love with Lincoln. The grade school facts just aren't enough.





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