Poetry Corner: Born Without a Chance
A SQUALID VILLAGE set in wintry mud.
A hub-deep oxcart slowly groans and creaks.
A horseman hails and halts. He shifts his cud
“Well, did you hear? Tom Lincoln's wife today.
The devil's luck for folk as poor as they!
Poor Tom! Poor Nance!
Poor young 'un born without a chance!
“A baby in that Godforsaken den,
That worse than cattle pen!
Well, what are they but cattle? Cattle? Tut!
A critter is beef, hide and tallow, but
Who'd swap one for the critters of that hut?
White trash! Small fry!
Whose only instincts are to multiply!
They're good at that,
And so, today, God wot! Another brat!
“Another squawking, squalling, red-faced good-for-naught
Spilled on the world, heaven only knows for what.
Better if he were black,
For then he'd have a shirt upon his back,
And something in his belly, as he grows.
More than he's like to have, as I suppose.
Yet there be those
Who claim 'equality' for this new brat,
And that damned Democrat
Who squats today where Washington once sat,
He'd have it that this Lincoln cub might be
Of even value in the world with you and me!
“Yes, Jefferson, Tom Jefferson, who but he?
Who even hints that black men should be free?
That featherheaded fool would tell you maybe
A president might lie in this new baby!
In this new squawker born without a rag
To hide himself! Good God, it makes me gag!
This human spawn
Born for the world to wipe its feet upon
A few years hence, but now
More helpless than the litter of a sow,
And--Oh, well send the women folks to see to Nance.
“Poor little devil! born without a chance!”
The Time: Napoleonic in Europe; Jeffersonian in America. The Scene: An outlying border state, sometimes called “the dark end and bloody ground.” The Exact Date: Feb. 12, 1809.
Published in “The Best Loved Poems of the American People” in 1936.
Editor's Note: And yet, this baby grew up to become Abraham Lincoln, probably the best president this country ever had.