Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Maurice Manning‘s new collection, Railsplitter. Written in the persona of Abraham Lincoln, the poems are by turns lively, contemplative, and pungent—swollen with lament and anger. Lincoln, taken down in a theater, returns to the stage and the shooter often in these poems. He liked Shakespeare’s tragedies best, and here, among the lines and lore of Hamlet, we feel his struggle toward ghostly moderation: “gestures must not be over done, or else / Chaos will upend the unity desired.”
Aside. Wormwood, wormwood.
Trippingly on the tongue, so Hamlet says,
How lines must be delivered from the stage,
Especially when passion must be tempered,
And gestures must not be over done, or else
Chaos will upend the unity desired.
The groundlings, claims this son, are capable
Of nothing but dumb-shows and noise, nicely
Reaching beyond the stage to pander and pun,
Which makes one wonder how serious is this
Entreaty, then, to hold the mirror up to
Nature? In the play within the play, a mouse-
Trap catches a king unnaturally.
To be or not to be, was never my pick.
O my offence is rank, is the better speech—
Heaven is how high it smells, the offence—
Enlivened language for murder, ironically.
Low act, but elevated thought, to play
Lightly a scene of wretchedness and folly.
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