Lincoln’s Lover: Mary Lincoln in Poetry

by Jason Emerson

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A fascinating woman, Mary Lincoln has inspired poets for over 150 years

In his Poetics, Aristotle said a historian and a poet do not differ from each other―one simply writes in verse and the other in prose. In fact, history and poetry have a long connection; much of what we know about ancient history throughout the world came to us through the centuries and millennia as epic poetry purporting to tell the stories of great men and events. The two genres also create a fascinating juxtaposition when each views one through the lens of the other. To consider the life of a historical person through poetry is both to see that person for who they were and to consider who that person could have, or even should have, been in a more poetically perfect world.

Abraham Lincoln and poetry have a long and intimate connection. Lincoln wrote and even published multiple poems, and all of his greatest writings and speeches are themselves outstandingly and inherently poetic. Following Lincoln’s death, hundreds of poetic tributes were published in newspapers across the country, and eulogies to the Great Emancipator in verse have continued to be penned ever since. But what about his wife, Mary? She also has a long and intimate connection to verse: she read and wrote poetry, was both ennobled muse and satirical target, and shared a love of the genre that formed a personal connection with her husband.

Lincoln’s Lover: Mary Lincoln in Poetry is a compilation of poetry written by, for, and about Mary Lincoln dating from 1839 to 2012. Each poem is prefaced with brief explanations contextualizing the historical events of Mary’s life as portrayed in the poem, as well as an explanation of the poem and the poet who wrote it. Presented chronologically, the works offer a view of the changing perceptions of Mary Lincoln through the years. The poems show Mary as woman, wife, First Lady, and widow, as well as insane woman, complex individual, and intricate and indispensable part of her husband. A combination of poetry, history, and biography, Lincoln’s Lover is a unique book that allows readers to experience Mary Lincoln’s words, thoughts, experiences, and legacy as explained and exposed through poetry over the past 170 years.

Praise for Lincoln’s Lover

“Jason Emerson has a unique and creative method of bringing us closer to the historical individuals who are the subjects of his scholarly research. To consider Mary Lincoln in terms of the poetry written “by, for, and about” her is to take perhaps a softer view of this frequently controversial and often maligned figure. The sadness in her life comes quickly to the fore in Emerson’s book, but there is also evidence of her intellectual depth. There is an outstanding introduction for each poem, and these present a concise view of the Lincoln family. As both a poet and a historian, Jason Emerson is in an extraordinary position to write this book. Reading it will give you a different perspective on Mary Todd Lincoln.”

Sara Gabbard
Executive Director, Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana
Editor of Lincoln Lore

“What an inspirational and unique book of poetry and verse about Mary Lincoln, first lady/widow of our assassinated president.”

Mary A. Regula
Founder and former president, First Ladies National Historic Site