Occasional Poetry: Speech as Poem

Abraham Lincoln

Sacrifices are Necessary to Retain Freedom for All

Lincoln. Our 16th President. Writer of the Emancipation Proclamation. Assassinated before the bleeding sides resolved the War of Brother against Brother.

And a poet working in the form of speeches.

The Gettysburg Address is his best work. Here it is, taken out of its prose form and constructed as if Walt Whitman had stuck out a finger and shifted the line lengths.

Four score and seven years ago

Our fathers brought forth, on this continent,

A new nation,

 

Conceived in liberty,

 

And dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war,

Testing whether that nation, or any nation

So conceived, and so dedicated,

Can long endure.

 

We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We come to dedicate a portion of it,

As a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

 

But, in a larger sense,

We cannot dedicate—

We cannot consecrate—

We cannot hallow this ground.

 

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here,

Have consecrated it

Far above our poor power to add or detract.

 

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here

While it can never forget what they did here.

 

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here

To the unfinished work

Which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—

That from these honored dead

We take increased devotion

To the cause

For which they gave the last full measure of devotion—

 

That we here resolve

That these dead shall not have died in vain—

 

That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth

Of freedom

 

And that government of the people

By the people

And for the people

Shall not perish from the earth.