Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was born on November 10, 1879 in Springfield, Illinois. The second of six children and the only son of Dr. Vachel Thomas Lindsay and Esther Catharine Frazee Lindsay. During his youth, Vachel was encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps, therefore as a dutiful son, he enrolled at Hiram College, as a premedical student in 1897. Three years later, he wrote home and asked his parents to allow him to attend art school. In 1901 he was accepted as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and began his pursuit of a career as an illustrator. He spent time reading the works of English mystic poet William Blake and writing poetry in earnest.
The years 1906 through 1912 were Lindsay’s troubadour years as he took his poetry to the people. He ventured out into the world on walking tours of the countryside, taking no money with him, instead trading his poetry for food and shelter. In 1920, Lindsay became the first American poet invited to recite at Oxford University and undertook his first national lecturing tour. Nicholas Vachel Lindsay died in 1931.
Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
It is portentious, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house, pacing up and down.
Or by his homestead, or by shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.
A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat, and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint, great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.
He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:–as in times before!
And we who toss or lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.
His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.
The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.
He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come:–the shining hope of Europe free:
The league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.
It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?