The Suicide's Soliloquy

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The Suicide's Soliloquy
Author Anonymous (possibly Abraham Lincoln)
Published August 25, 1838
Publisher The Sangamo Journal

The Suicide's Soliloquy is an unsigned poem, possibly written by Abraham Lincoln,[1] first published on August 25, 1838, in The Sangamo Journal, a four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois. News of the poem first arose shortly after Lincoln's assassination when one of Lincoln's personal friends, Joshua Speed, told William Herndon, Lincoln's biographer, that Lincoln had written a poem about suicide. The poem proved to be impossible to track down until 2004, when Richard Miller, an independent writer discovered the supposed poem. Although the poem seems to follow the same themes and style as Lincoln's other works, there is still controversy over whether or not it was actually written by Lincoln.

In The Sangamo Journal[edit]

The Introduction[edit]

"The following lines were said to have been found near the bones of a man supposed to have committed suicide in a deep forest on the flat branch of the Sangamon some time ago."

The poem[edit]

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o'er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens' cry.

Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I'll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I'm prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn'd on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from your sheath,
And glist'ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

Lincoln authorship controversy[edit]

Arguments in favor of Lincoln authorship[edit]

The first argument as to why the "Suicide's Soliloquy" could be written by Lincoln is the most obvious: the poem was published in the Sangamo Journal, a newspaper that Lincoln had published other works in before. Along with this, the poem was published in 1838, the same date given by Lincoln's friend, Joshua Speed. The next part to the argument for why Lincoln is the author is that the topic of suicide was not a common subject for published works at the time, and Lincoln was one of the few people who were known to write about suicide. On top of this the word "dagger" was not a common word for people to use at the time. The only people who were familiar with the word were people, such as Lincoln, who were interested in the work of William Shakespeare. In particular Macbeth, one of Lincoln's favorite Shakespearian pieces has a famous scene in which the titular ruler is haunted by a spectral dagger. In terms of the actual poem, many believe Lincoln to be the author because it shares a similar meter, syntax, diction, and tone with many other poems published by Lincoln, and according to Richard Miller, the man who discovered the poem, the theme of the interplay between rationality and madness is "especially Lincolnian in spirit". Another reason why the poem could have been written by Lincoln is that many of the symptoms of depression that Lincoln expressed in letters and several other pieces are discussed in the poem. For example, one of Lincoln's symptoms was described as a "storm in his brain, punctuated by thunderclaps of thought--self-critical, fearful, despairing"[2]. This symptom was demonstrated in one of Lincoln's other pieces in which he wrote of an "intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death". This symptom comes into the poem when the narrator claims "To ease me of this power to think,/ That through my bosom raves,/ I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,/ And wallow in its waves".

Arguments against Lincoln authorship[edit]

Although there are many clues that point towards Lincoln, there are still several reasons for skepticism. The main argument for why Lincoln could not be the author has to do with the lack of agreement on the year the poem was published. Jesse Weik, the co-author of Lincoln's biography stated that the lost Lincoln poem was published in 1841, while William Herndon's notes from an interview with Lincoln's closest friends, Joshua Speed, said that the lost poem was published in 1838. When Herndon checked the paper from the exact day of 1838, when the poem was supposedly published, he discovered that someone had cut out something from the paper. Whether the fact that someone cut something out of the paper points towards something suspicious or not, the date the poem was published is significant because these inconsistencies in reports. There was a period during 1835 when Lincoln's friends became concerned for his safety due to his talk of suicide and created what we would consider today a suicide watch. [3]


  1. ^ Joshua Wolf Shenk (June 2004). "The Suicide Poem". The New Yorker. 
  2. ^ Shenk, Joshua Wolf. "Lincoln's Great Depression". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-05-30. 
  3. ^