Follies Gone

I had the pleasure recently of watching a documentary written by Bill O’Reilly and narrated by Tom Hanks, titled Killing Lincoln.  O’Reilly made a point of showing Lincoln walking through the streets of a decimated Richmond – once capital of the great confederacy.  Lincoln sat at the desk of Jefferson Davis, who had fled the city only hours before.  From that desk he was asked about the nature of attack against the still fleeing rebel soldiers, who were worn and torn and completely without any resources.   They could have been killed like fish in a barrel.  As for the general sentiment at the time I’m certain that would have been a most fitting end to them.  But that wasn’t Lincoln’s assessment, which is why I believe he is the greatest man who probably ever lived.  I applaud Mr. O’Reilly for bringing this side of Lincoln to light.

Follies Gone

Who shall stand behind her bars and stars?
Who shall fight for Master Robert?
Wrapped in her crimson grasp he cries
“Old Glory never dies!”

Richmond lays in waste,
the path of hunger flows
over hills and valleys low.
But nothing soothes disgrace
or the damned deafening blows
Lee’s army has come to know…

Lincoln sits upon Davis’ throne,
awash in rubble and fear.
Grasping victory clearly alone
in a city full of tears.

And Captain of the Guard should ask
“How to handle the Rebs?”
Lincoln gave that solemn look
and without hesitance said:

We have wrought this terrible war
to settle a more terrible score.
Our valiant brothers in arms
have fled to field and farms.
Lest their honor shed a single tear
or bloodshed last another year,
bring their souls some hopeful cheer,
allow their cause and hearts be near,
let God and all countrymen hear,
that life and brotherhood are so dear.

With that he sat and sighed,
a great turmoil did subside.
Other men think we are all tied
but Lincoln knew deep inside…

That solitude joins each man’s path.
And so too does brotherhood.

“Let up on them, Captain.
Let up on them”

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.

Abraham Lincoln


© 2012 John Richter


About johnallenrichter

I am an aspiring Poet and adorer of life, a conqueror of nothing. However I am a champion curator of truth and friendship and hold both of those things most dearly to my heart. Welcome to my mind's eye. I hope you will enjoy what you may find and please know that you have a friend here. View all posts by johnallenrichter

22 responses to “Follies Gone

  • Sharp Little Pencil

    John, this is one of the most eloquent poems I’ve read this month, and that’s saying something. The wisdom of Lincoln, seated “on Davis’ throne,” seems all but lost in our current Us vs. Them mentality. Militias are on the rise, powered by assault rifles. Vigilantes mow down anyone brown they can find in Texas. And some who needed mental care but simply ran out of words mow down a temple, a theater… Racism is out there, has always been. And books don’t tell us that Lincoln BEGAN the Civil War concerned only with preserving the Union; it was later that he had his awakening and vowed to stamp out slavery once and for all. They don’t teach us that presidents can have doubts, can EVOLVE (like Pres. Obama and marriage equality, people were horrified to hear him admit he had changed his mind in support… presidents are supposed to be perfect and “set in stone”). The final line says it all. This was a fair man, to the end, and a decent man who chose to listen to his “better angels.” Lovely. BRAVO. Amy

  • kaykuala

    bring their souls some hopeful cheer,
    allow their cause and hearts be near,
    let God and all countrymen hear,
    that life and brotherhood are so dear.

    Never mind a Civil war. It’s humanity and the wisdom of a statesman emphasized here. Life is more precious than winning a war. Great words in your take, John!


    • johnallenrichter

      Hi Hank….. I’m so glad you find the true story of the Civil War here. Lincoln has long been my hero, not for his heavy hand, but for his heavy heart. Robert E. Lee is also a great American hero of mine, for so many reasons, but his final follies of the crushing end of this war cause the reader to get a true sense of the sadness of it all. Many people don’t know of Lee’s history, that he was a great U.S. Commander before secession, that his father was a great commander of the Revolutionary War, that his wife’s father gave the eulogy at his own father George Washington’s funeral, that he and his wife both favored abolition, or that Buchanan and Lincoln both offered Lee command of all U.S. Troops prior to the beginning of the Civil War. Quite a pedigree to go up against a man who spent his youth reading borrowed law books by candle light in a log cabin to become an attorney. Many men in Lincoln’s position might have hung Lee as a traitor. Lincoln would not. Instead he turned Lee’s Arlington home and property into a national cemetery and filled his lawns with the headstones of thousands of American men who died in that war. He wanted Lee to see the results of his follies. And Lee did.

      One of the measures of Lincoln’s compassion has always been photographs of him before and after running for the presidency. His eyes are definitely the window to his soul. Before the war I see a man confident, with great wisdom, and playful, so much so I think to define his entire character. After being elected though I see each and every death of that war weighing upon his soul. I think I have never seen a more beaten man. Lincoln was not interested in weaving a fabric of justice. He was only interested in reaching out to his contemporary brothers and making them whole again. And we have followed his prescription at the end of every war we have been in since. Which is something I think makes us the greatest nation on earth and something that you pointed out: humanity.


      • kaykuala

        Magnanimous in victory with a heart of gold. All the more of the fact that it was a civil war.The victors and vanquished were of the same but of different sides. It was just that one had to lose. Vengeance and retribution had no place in a civil war and that was the underlying factor. Thanks for such an exhaustive and also an eloquent reply to my comment both here and at my blog. Thanks, John!


  • ManicDdaily

    Such a great great man, and great president. I don’t think people value him enough today. Thanks for this lovely poem. k.

  • Björn Rudberg (brudberg)

    wisdom in poetry is something I loved to appraise. and you have painted a picture of a great man in ways I never knew (have not seen the film) … thank you so much for this, and I feel a gratitude for a wat that was fought in a way that the civil was seems to have been. History have shown that the hardest thing is not to start a war but to make peace afterwards.

    • johnallenrichter

      Thank you Björn ……. Many view the American Civil War as a war of romance, where gallantry prevailed and where men rose to the perfection of valor and honor…. There is truth in a great part of that, and I would point to men like Lincoln and Davis who both instilled and demanded that same demeanor in the citizenry. But make no mistake about it, this war was ended only on the note of absolute mayhem and destruction. Without the absolute ruthless nature of men like Sherman and Sheridan this war would have dragged on for decades. Southerners were no better, with men like Quantrell killing every man over 12 in the city of Lawrence Kansas simply for outlawing slavery. Richmond itself was just in absolute waste, almost completely leveled and hard to imagine how anything managed to survive in her the day Lincoln walked her streets. It was still aflame. I’m certain it was the scenes he saw in battlefields like this that formed his views. Other men strive because of it. But little pieces of Lincoln died because of it. Thanks for visiting.

  • brian miller

    very nice poem…lincoln is such an interesting character…i wonder how they would take him these days…defying the supreme court…i doubt a pres could get away with that now….a very moving look at lincoln in your words john…

    • johnallenrichter

      It was clearly social upheaval, Brian. Lincoln took many imaginative liberties to save the union, including things like capturing the state legislature of Maryland to prevent them from seceding from the Union. Can you imagine if one of our contemporary presidents sent troops in to capture your state? I love Abraham Lincoln, and i am glad he foresaw the need to abolish slavery, a certain sin indeed. But he did it by turning the states subservient to the federal government with the 14th amendment, which completely abridged the meaning and spirit of the bill of rights, which were adopted solely for the purpose of keeping the federal government subservient to the states. That’s the true story and travesty of the Civil War, and it’s the reason states like Maryland would have seceded. But that story is lost because sadly only the victors get to write the history books. However, Lincoln endured great hardships and sacrifice to unleash those shackled souls for which he shall always be reserved a special spot in my heart. I truly believe he is one of the most loving and empathetic souls ever to walk our earth.

  • Audrey Howitt

    A really moving piece John. Beautifully written–and I love the quote at the end—mercy, compassion and empathy—we need more of those qualities–

  • ayala

    A moving piece, John. Beautifully penned. He was really amazing.

  • Laurie Kolp

    Solitude and brotherhood indeed. A truly compelling poem.

  • Margaret

    In complete awe. I have read quite a bit about Lincoln, visited Ford’s Theatre in DC (a great museum on lowest level) and watched Killing Lincoln. The scene that grabbed me as well was in Gettysburg as well. I have on my right side bar a link to my DC trip and a few poems about Lincoln. Nothing that rivals your masterpiece. This is a work of love and art.

    • Margaret

      Another comment I have (after reading my friend Amy’s comment) is Lincoln never felt easy about slavery. But he believed in upholding the law and slavery was legal. Yes, he didnt start out with the intention of freeing the slaves, but he finally realized things could never go back the way they were. He waited patiently for a Northern win and then announced the Emancipation Proclamation. He didnt change his stance on the evil of slavery. He changed his mind on the focus of the war. Thank God for that!

    • johnallenrichter

      I think you are absolutely right Margaret…. The Republican party was brand “spankin” new – Abolition was just something that the public had on it’s mind and so both political parties found their own stands on it – the only actual opposition to slavery during the campaign was the idea carried over from the Whigg party which was that slavery should be banned from new expanding territories in the west, not from established states. But the south was so entrenched in slavery that their economy would have been bust without it, so any mention of abolition was fighting words to them. It was the mere thought that Lincoln would attempt to expand abolition in the south that started the war, not anything Lincoln said or promised to do. Tuff to think about the thousands of men, husbands, sons and brothers that died over it, but it may have well have been for a true cause, I’m sure Lincoln thought, so yes, complete abolition eventually became the goal. You’re a smart cookie, Margaret! – Just got back from Washington and Ford’s theater last week…. Quite an experience

  • emmettwheatfall

    John, I love poems about this topic and theme. I enjoy the fact you chose to you end-rhyme for this prose piece. It works. It gives it a slight musical sound which gives reading it pace. Good work sir, good work.

    • johnallenrichter

      Thanks for coming Emmett! Your own poem was a thinking piece this week, and reminds me that art is both a reflection of life and of the artist himself….. As I look at my own piece, detached as my mind allows, I find that whether form or prose poetry remains itself the reader’s emotion. Funny this piece should have the word “Follies” in its title because normally my writings are nothing but that….. words presented in a way to evoke the reader’s emotion. This poem is different. And that is the only thing I can say of it.

  • claudia

    cool…love that quote in the end and i don’t know much about lincoln but reading your poem def. makes me to want to check out the film and learn a bit more about him

  • scotthastiepoet

    Soulfully sustained piece John, which builds and builds towards telling and tender ending – good stuff!

  • ManicDdaily

    I agree with you re Lincoln. A beautiful portrait. Thanks, John. k.

  • Todd Alan Kraft

    I loved hearing you recite the work. It definitely adds a interesting dimension. I liked how the rhyming scheme varied, it livened up the read. I had family that fought, and some died, on both sides of the conflict, and I think you brought the brutality and nobility that the war entailed to the fore. I’m not going to point out particular parts that I liked, because they are too numerous. You have a wonderful way with words. Reading your observations as I follow you around the dVerse universe is a delight, as they are insightful and eloquent. I always appreciate your comments.

  • Colleen@LooseLeafNotes

    Powerful. And the ending gives me a chill.

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