There is a debate regarding the authorship of ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy.’ Some critics say it’s not Lincoln’s original work. While some find links in this poem with Lincoln’s other works. However, it was first published on August 25, 1838, in The Sangamo Journal. It’s a four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln had published his other works in that newspaper before.
Summary of The Suicide’s Soliloquy
‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln sounds like a suicide note of a depressed person who has lost hope in this mundane. There is a note at the beginning of the poem. It says the lines of the poem were said to have been found near the bones of a man who possibly committed suicide, in a deep forest, on the flat branch of the Sangamon, some times ago.
However, in this poem, the speaker is resolved to kill himself with a dagger. Before killing himself, he is thinking about why he is going to do so. It seems he might be reassuring himself about the deed he is going to commit. To sum up, he has lost hope in his worldly life and he has nobody to share his pain with. Hence, there is no other way available to him except for suicide.
Structure of The Suicide’s Soliloquy
‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln consists of nine four-line stanzas. In this poem, the poet uses a regular rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB and it goes on throughout the poem. The syllable count of each stanza is 8-6-8-6 and the stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. For this reason, the overall poem is composed of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter alternatively. However, there are trochaic variations in the poem. As an example, the first foot of the first line is trochaic.
Literary Devices in The Suicide’s Soliloquy
‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln begins with a metaphor and onomatopoeia in “the lonely hooting owl”. Thereafter, in “midnight moans” the poet uses alliteration. Moreover, here the poet also uses personification and personifies the owl. Thereafter, the poet hints at a synecdoche in “ashes”. There is another onomatopoeia in the “raven’s cry”. However, the poet uses a metaphor in “hell’s high brink”. Here, the poet compares hell to a steep mountain. The poet also uses paradox in this poem. It is present in the lines, “Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,/ Will help me to forget”. The poem ends with a metaphor.
Analysis of The Suicide’s Soliloquy
Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.
‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln presents an image of a wild and lonely place in the first stanza. The speaker of the poem is at a place where one can hear only the hooting of the owls. Moreover, it’s midnight and there’s no one nearby. Thereafter, the poet imagines what’s going to happen after his death. He says only the fierce wolves will feed on his carcass. Buzzards or vultures pick at his 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.
In the second stanza of ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln, the speaker nobody will be aware of his fate in such a wild place. Even none can find his ashes. Unless beasts roaming around his body will give the signal to someone that there is a dead body nearby. Thereafter, the poet also assumes that the raven’s cry will also serve the purpose of making others aware of the speaker’s death.
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!
The third stanza of ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln, refers to the speaker’s determination to kill himself. The speaker has made up his mind to commit this at that place described in the previous stanzas. Moreover, the person points at a dagger with which he is going to do that. At last, there is a sense of sinfulness in his tone. He knows his deed will lead him to hell. But, he is ready to rue his sin there.
Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?
Thereafter, in ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln, the speaker sorrowfully says he is one of those who weren’t fortunate enough to have any pleasures. He never knew anything that feels pleasurable in his life. Moreover, he doesn’t have any friends and they left them in utter misery. Due to such circumstances, even hope has faded away from his heart. Here, the personifies hope and says even hope has deserted him.
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.
However, in ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’, the speaker refers to one’s ability to think that causes all the mental turbulence. The more he thinks about his miseries the more he becomes devastated. In his bosom, there is a constant feud between to do or not to do. Being fed up with such thoughts, he has resolved to jump straight off the “high brink” of hell and wallow in the “waves” of the river that flows in hell. So, in his imagination, he is also on the verge of oblivion.
Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.
In the sixth stanza of ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’, Abraham Lincoln presents gloomy imagery of hell. Here, the poetic persona says the yelling of the devils and the lashes of the “burning chain” may wake regret in his heart. However, the “frightful screams” and the “piercing pains” will help the speaker forget his pain. In this way, the speaker emphasizes the intensity of his suffering that he is going through.
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!
In this stanza of ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln, the speaker presents the stern resolution of his preparedness. He is ready to undertake the “fiery berth” that leads one to hell through “endless night”. Here, he metaphorically refers to the endless chain of suffering that he is stuck in. Thereafter, using a negation the speaker says that the frightening tales of hell can’t stop him from doing what he is going to do. As his life is damned on earth, the thoughts of hell no matter how insufferable they are, can’t make him fearful.
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!
In the eighth stanza of ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln, the speaker personifying the “steel” of the dagger pleads it to come out of its sheath. Thereafter, he unsheaths the dagger and looks at its glistening blade. Looking at it, he tells the dagger to unravel its powers and rip up his lungs. Here, using a periphrasis in “the organs of my breath”, the speaker refers to his lungs. Moreover, the speaker sensationally refers to drawing his 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!
In the last stanza of ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’, Abraham Lincoln’s poetic persona anticipates what he is going to do on that night. Moreover, this stanza reflects the psychology of a person burdened with suicidal thoughts. The speaker can feel the striking of the blade in his heart. The painful quivering of his flesh drives his dying thoughts to the end. At last, he draws the bloody “dart” and kisses it as it hasn’t marooned him in his need, unlike his so-called friends. That’s why in the last line, he compares the dagger to his last and only friend.
Interestingly, ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ was published anonymously in The Sangamo Journal. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, one of his friends, Joshua Speed told William Herndon, Lincoln’s biographer, that Lincoln had written “a few lines under the gloomy title of Suicide”. But, no one found the actual article. However, it was found in 1997 by Richard Lawrence Miller, and in 2002 he found that it matched the description of the missing article. There are some similarities in this poem with Lincoln’s other works. However, there is still controversy over the authorship of this poem.
Like ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ by Abraham Lincoln, the following poems also present similar themes.
- Suicide’s Note by Langston Hughes – In this one of the best-known Langston Hughes poems, the speaker similarly talks about his suicidal thoughts.
- Felo de se by Thomas Blackburn – This poem depicts a woman’s suicide attempt and her return to this world.
- Kamikaze by Beatrice Garland – This poem describes the suicidal mission of a kamikaze pilot.
- S.I.W. by Wilfred Owen – Here, Wilfred Owen talks about the self-inflicted wounds that helped the soldiers to return to their homes during World War I.
You can read about 10 Incredible Poems about Death here.