an essay by Duncan Newcomer


The following essay is an excerpt form Newcomer’s upcoming book, Quiet Fire: The Spiritual Life of Abraham Lincoln. This book discusses six aspects of Lincoln’s spiritual life and organizes them into two categories.  The first category includes three ways of defining his spiritual cast of mind: his use of language, his sense of vision and mystery, and his poise. The second category includes three ways of defining his archetypal psychology: his spiritual life defined as Warrior, as King, and as Grail King.


“I am taken captive by so striking an utterance as this. I see in it the effect of sharp trial, when rightly borne, to raise man to a higher level of thought and action. It is by cruel suffering that nations are sometimes born to a better life. So it is with individual man. Lincoln’s words show that upon him anxiety and sorrow have wrought their full effect.” -Lord Gladstone, on the Gettysburg Address

“Pain and conflict have a meaning: they are the working out of an ideal, and that which they produce is a similar working out. Their excellence consists in the soul which they fashion: and that of the soul, thus fashioned, in its ability to sympathize, understand, and aid.” -John Keats
abeThe movement from Warrior to King is deep in our culture, almost as if it were the natural order of things. In the election of 1848 Lincoln gave up supporting his long-time ideal statesman, Henry Clay, for the non-descript Zachary Taylor, a Louisiana slave owner, because he was a General from the Mexican War. The Democrats were running a General, and Generals were electable, and statesmen like Clay were not. Lincoln at that time was himself already deeply unpopular in his own home district for opposing the Mexican War. A warrior for President was in order.

The movement is from warrior to king and not usually from king to warrior. Few presidents are elected in order to take us into war, although some, Wilson, Johnson, the Bushes, do so after the election. They don’t do it overtly by becoming warriors themselves. We may want the sword to lead to the crown but we do not openly want the crown to lead to the sword. This is because our expectation of a warrior turned king, a general being president, is that they will know how to make peace and create a safe new homeland. This was the promise of George Washington, it was part of
President Eisenhower’s World War II legacy to now end the Korean War. These are also promises for change that we enshrine in our religious and cultural myths. Biblically, David was a warrior before he was the king.

Symbolically we expect something about the warrior’s sword to change when it is taken into the precincts of the king. As the sword changes so does the one who holds it. The transition from warrior to king is a psychological transformation. The transformation from king to grail king is of an increase in spiritual magnitude, when the psyche becomes more truly the soul. Such comes with the tale of the sword that will not stop from its own bleeding in the myth of the Fisher King. The sword of constant bloodshed, whether it is imagined as Cain’s sword that killed Able, or a weapon that pierced the side of Christ on the Cross, is a sword in need of healing. In the Fisher King myth the suffering of the wounded king is what redeems the sword. We can understand this in archetypal terms as the effect of Gandhi’s hunger strikes in stemming civil violence. His suffering, at times, moved people to end Muslim-Hindu violence. The Fisher King myth points to a confluence of the images of warrior and king. The warrior who turns king, such as Caesar, or the spiritual leader who becomes a certain kind of king, such as Christ, both come together in the Fisher King myth. A myth that would bring such divergent images together, Caesar and Christ, is a myth for our time, and it is one that gives light to who Lincoln was. Certainly some see him as America’s Caesar, others as a Christ-like American.

The story, or myth, of the Fisher King arose in serval places in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is the source from which the King Arthur stories come. It is the story of Parsifal, which means “innocent fool,” a country boy, who saves the Grail Castle and its land from the confusion, chaos, and destruction caused by the illness that has befallen the Fisher King. Unless the Fisher King is restored to health the kingdom will decline into devastation and the sword of constant bloodshed will not stop its bleeding. The King will only be restored when the question is asked, “Whom does the Grail serve?”

Innocent Parsifal eventually is the one who asks that question and the answer emerges. He has a long journey to the castle from the country and from his homespun life with his mother, named Heart Sorrow, who taught him not to ask questions. The Holy Grail of Jesus’s Last Supper, the Chalice, as well as the sword of unending bloodshed, exist in the Grail Castle where the Fisher King lives. There is an answer to the question concerning who the Grail serves. Only at the time when the answer emerges–that the Grail serves the Grail King, not the people who want the Grail for themselves–will there be health and wellbeing in the land and balance between the sword and the grail.

Parsifal, however, has to be willing to ask the question. When he left home as a boy his mother told him


Parsifal fails to ask the question.

never to ask questions. She also told him not to seduce or be seduced by women and to always know that if he needed food to go to the church. He is the model initiate into the ethics of the patriarchal world. He must leave his mother, avoid sex, go to church and seek worldly glory.  Even while he has to leave his mother, his mother admonishes him to stay away from the feminine. He leaves home against his mother’s pleading because he has seen five knights riding by their country cottage. He is thunder-struck by their glory. Even though he breaks his mother’s heart, he does leave. While not finding the five knights, he encounters the Red Knight, a man of ruthless violence, and he eventually kills him. He also meets Blanche Fleur and falls in love with her but forgets her in his ongoing adventures eventually ending at the Fisher King’s Grail Castle.

The Fisher King’s illness is caused by an event in his youth not unlike the event that caused Parsifal to leave home. He is struck by an overwhelming sense of life, of an experience too wonderful for his young ego to hold onto. As a boy he wandered into a knight’s camp that was empty except for a fireplace with a spit on which was roasting a salmon. He grabbed it with his hand and burning his hand put his fingers in his mouth and tasted a magnificent pleasure that he cannot satisfy, comprehend, or cope with. He too is glory-stuck with an appetite that he cannot handle. Thus he becomes a King bereft, lost, and ill.

The answer to the question, “Whom does the Grail serve?” comes when it is revealed that in the center of the castle the Grail and the Grail King abide together. They are in a relationship of deep mutuality wherein the Grail itself serves the Grail King and the Grail King’s purpose is to enjoy the Grail. This mutual pleasure is not unlike the original order of creation in the Garden of Eden, nor unlike, in church dogma, the relationship between Christ and God. It is the beauty and wisdom of that relationship, that communion, that brings health to the ruler and to the land.

In this important myth, as we hear from the Jungian therapist Robert A. Johnson,

“Parsifal is torn between his masculine, sword-wielding quality and his feminine Grail hunger. These two interplay constantly. In the Grail castle the sword that drips blood and the Grail are held close together. They represent the unification of the man’s aggressive quality with his soul, which searches for love and union. Unless they can be brought into balance these two things create warfare in any man. The sword is redeemed when it is drawn into the crucifixion and fulfilling a holy purpose. This is the case with a man’s swords-wielding masculinity. It is redeemed only by suffering. Some people interpret the whole myth as a war between the masculine bloodshed and the redemptive feminine, but both are brought into balance at the end of the myth in the form of the Grail King.”

The possibility of a Grail King, these are the terms of fulfillment to the secular and spiritual story of Abraham Lincoln. To apply the myth of the Grail King, and its symbolic ideas, to the real life of Lincoln is almost impossible. The archetypal role of king is difficult to connect to a man as “un-royal” as Lincoln was personally. His legacy as a man for the common man comes from the deepest qualities of his nature. How do we get a king out of that? A grail king seems even more impossible.

The ultimate and impossible paradox is that joining of the sword of Caesar and the crown of Christ. There does exist a sword that never becomes a ploughshare. Does there exist a crown of Christ in this world? Lincoln’s personality and his mind incorporate numerous paradoxes, but the Caesar-Christ dichotomy is fundamentally impossible to resolve. Yet it is one whose tension is powerfully relevant to our time when America struggles to still show something of the original idea of America.

Whatever a Grail King is as an archetype it will need, in history, to cope with the “un-royal” idea of democracy as well as with the reality of Caesar’s sword versus the transcendence of the Christ ideal.

Lincoln would look blankly upon the notion that he and a king had anything to do with each other. Yet, we could remind him that a version of human sovereignty is basic to the origins of democracy in the Greek city state of Athens. The legitimacy of democracy is rooted in an inner value, the equality, of the enfranchised men. Citizens, then, are equal and sovereign. This is, fundamentally, an idea from a spiritual impulse. It is not materially evident. It is a value assumed, proffered, and then believed in. And Lincoln did. He also grew up in the Protestant context in which the priesthood of all believers was abundantly practiced in the frontier churches of his youth. The soul, too, was sovereign, in each person. The King Archetype then, paradoxically, points to the integrity and authority of the person and how that value becomes central to the formation of lives individually and in community. In our time we might express this archetypal idea in the psychological language of an “inner king” in the psyche of everyone.

Democracy could even be the secular fulfillment of the spiritual idea of blessing and love from an all loving God in a universe of created abundance. In other words, not only is every person a king or queen but the world is a gifted realm. This too would be a spiritual notion with obvious sources within the Christian vision and the teachings of the Kingdom of God from the life of Jesus. The idea of the Kingdom of God in America was huge part of the frontier spirit deeply known to Lincoln even as he rejected church itself in favor of a more reasonable and enlightened version of these ideas.

Lincoln as a good king, if not a Grail King, might be a little more acceptable to him—although we can certainly see him either impatiently waving us off with his big hand or twinkling with bemusement at the ridiculous notion of himself as kingly. But, we could also argue with him, the Whig ideal that so moved him into the political world was also an idea derived from the concept of the good king. In the Fisher King and other ancient myths the kingdom prospered when the king was healthy. The whole integrity of the king was crucial to the welfare of the land. His inner orderliness and his creative and procreative powers were crucial to the idea that the land would benefit.

Lincoln would recognize these mythic concepts as also classical Roman ideas of Republican citizenship and virtue. Personal and public morality became basic to Whig moral ideals. The spirituality of the Whigs had Puritan roots as well. These were watered in the evangelical Christian awakenings and they branched in Abolitionism. Thus, for Whig Americans, in a land where, mythically, there was a sword that would not stop bleeding, slavery, it would be impossible for a good leader to also be a slave owner. The spirituality polity of the north and the south became different versions of different virtues. These became drawn and terrible swift swords.

While the idea, itself, of a good king creating a good land might appear superstitious to the rational Lincoln, the good man and good government were in fact guiding principles in his life. These principles he would fulfill. He was an honest man. He was integrity personified. Reason and the Law became the guiding authorities in Lincoln’s life. He held these as basic virtues personally and nationally and they had political and spiritual consequences he had not thought of.

We can recognize aspects of Lincoln in the characteristics of the archetype of the King outlined by the Jungians Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette in their book on the masculine archetypes, “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover.” Here is a summary of these early kingly characteristics; they also were marked qualities of Lincoln’s life:

“The King archetype in its fullness possesses the qualities of order, of reasonable and rational patterning, of integration and integrity in the masculine psyche. It stabilizes chaotic emotion and out-of-control behaviors. It gives stability and centeredness. It brings calm. And in its ‘fertilizing’ and centeredness it mediates vitality, life-force, and joy….It looks upon the world with a firm but kindly eye. …In its central incorporation and expression of the Warrior, it represents aggressive might when that is what is needed when order is threatened. It also has the power of inner authority.”

Lincoln could be this man in his early adoption of the law and then reason as his life guides. His attraction to the Whig party was not just its policy of national improvement, it was its emphasis, in a secular way for sure, on the essential relationship between proper personal behavior and a good government and a good nation. Gillette and Moore continue, “It is the mortal king’s duty not only to receive and take his people this right order of the universe and cast it in societal form, but even more fundamentally, to embody it in his own person, to live it in his own life.”  Whether this is simply called Right Order, The Torah, the Law, the Dharma or the Tao, it is all the archetype of good order. It is integrated into the person who leads and then the people receive the blessing of that integration.

While we may not assume the cause and effect of this inner and outer law, we may not be as far from these traditional concepts of human organization as we think. Historians largely agree that craven leadership in the years before the Civil War contributed greatly to its happening. We might see then what an ancient Egyptian saw when he saw the ruler lose his connection to the good way. This is what Lincoln saw when he looked upon the destructions of the Civil War. The Egyptian ancient reference here is to the Middle Kingdoms from Nefer-rohu, quoted by Gillette and Moore. It states that when there has been a chain of illegitimate rulers who have not followed right principles then “the land is helter-skelter…Men will take up weapons in warfare, the land lives in confusion. …I will show thee a son as a foe, the brother as an enemy, and a man killing his (own) father.” In other words, the American Civil War.

In Lincoln’s mind the restoration of authority, right order, that was his first goal as President. As the Thirteenth Amendment and the abolition of slavery was, he was to say “a king’s cure” for the evils of the land, so his first order of business was the king’s job of restoring order. It was not to defeat the enemy. In fact he never considered the South the enemy, just the wayward brothers who had the wrong idea about how we are to live together, and who also did not have the legal right to destroy the union. Law and order then made up his kingly flesh and blood.

But that just makes him a King, not a Grail King, whatever that is. A leader who is in touch with the Grail King archetype is in touch with more than just the King. In Lincoln the Whig virtues did go deeper than law and order, they went to justice. As William E. Miller points out in his book, “Lincoln’s Virtues, An Ethical Biography” Lincoln was a prudent man, and prudence had classical roots, but also spiritual reach. His orderly prudent mind starts with the quality of attention, as noted in Lincoln, even in his awareness of trees, trees he remembered and trees he would see while riding in his carriage around Washington. A prudent person, Miller states, is one who “pays a careful attention to the particular situation in which one acts. In calculating, for example, who to vote for it was pragmatic and more, to not just look at ones hopes dreams and fantasies, but to consequences intelligently understood, to the world out there, outside of oneself.” Lincoln, prudently, would not miss the forest or the trees. For example, he was very upset with Free Soilers who had cost the Whigs the election in ’44. That had led to President Polk and the Mexican War and the potential expansion of slave interests; and that, as we now know, led to the Civil War. He thought them to be imprudent, they simply were not paying attention, attention to election results and to what that would mean.

Prudence and justice lay the ground work for a larger vision. The absence of what we call moralistic narcissism lays the ground work for the Grail King. The Grail King is alert and is, particularly, the one who serves the whole and not the self. While he attends to his own proper personal behavior he is not thinking about himself. He attends to himself so that he can keep his clear vision on the wider community. It is whimsically interesting that a spontaneous youth movement erupted in support of Lincoln’s first campaign for the Presidency, of corps of youth across the North who called themselves the “Wide Awakes.”

Moore and Gillette write of the steps in “accessing the King.” They mean to have the psychological powers of the archetype available to the person. It begins, they state, in having a cognitive distance between oneself and the kingly role one is in. This is the spiritual step of dis-identifying the ego with the role. We see this distance in Lincoln from the very first.  When he play-acts and mimics preachers as a boy he shows the distance an actor has from the role he plays. He was the youthful jester showing the preacher-kings something about themselves that they perhaps could not see. When he captures his melon-stealing friends he is not ego-invested in showing them who is boss. When he wrestles with Clary’s Grove boys’ leader, Jack Armstrong, he either wins or creates a draw, reports differ. But all agree that he shakes his foe’s hands, making him an equal in the fight and not a loser or a cheater, which Armstrong may have been. It was never Lincoln’s desire to make anyone feel less than him. Lincoln was never on an ego-trip, so he didn’t need to become the bully that replaced the bully. Lincoln wanted to be the President, but he did not want to become a President. It was an office not an identity. He writes to his young law partner “Billy” Herndon from the White House saying that when this is all over he will return and they will put out their shingle and practice law it is just as if nothing had ever happened. Lincoln is NOT a man who has identified his ego with his office.

What then is the source of a king’s or president’s greatness if not ego strength? It is, both psychologists and spiritual leaders tell us, a relationship to a greater source. Gillette and Moore, “That proper relationship is like that of a planet to the star it is orbiting. The planet is not the center of the star system; the star is….The planet derives its life from the star…. to use another image, the Ego of the mature man needs to think of itself—no matter what status or power it has temporarily achieved—as the servant of a transpersonal Will, or Cause…not for the benefit of itself, but for the benefit of those within its ‘realm,’ whatever that may be.”

That relationship of the individual ruler to a greater power is the theme of the Fisher King myth. Coming to us from the early medieval ages, it is the source of our King Arthur stories, but it is not complete. It is an unfinished myth. Parsifal, the central figure, comes to a kingdom that is in devastation, as did Lincoln. This “innocent fool” is from Whales, the outer lands, Lincoln is from, the frontier. He is a rube, not a civilized gentleman or prince. Lincoln was seen by the New England elite as a Parsifal. Parsifal’s charge is to complete a spiritual quest that takes him from following the violence and glory of the Red Knight, who ends up destroying life at will, to finding out what has wounded the King. Lincoln was a War President on his way to becoming a Peace President. He, too, by the end, had to ask and find the answer to an important question. It is a spiritual question: “Whom does the Grail serve?” We shall look into that mysterious query. What is the purpose of all this near endless suffering and my role in it, Lincoln asked.

The wounded land—according to that “superstition” we have already named–lies in ruin as a consequence of the King’s wound.  That is why he is called the Fisher King. The story had seemingly been one of Parsifal searching for the Grail. It ends, not with gaining the Grail, but with gaining an insight into what the Grail is all about, and it is not about having it. It is about leaning that it, itself, the Grail, serves the Grail King. What that means is that the Grail and the Grail King are in an I-Thou relationship with each other. They live for each other.

“The Grail King is the image of God, the earthly representation of the divine. The myth is telling us that our task is to learn that the Grail serves the Grail King, not that the Grail serves us,” says Robert A. Johnson.   An application of this spiritual idea would be to know that Mother Nature is not here to serve us, but that we are here to serve Mother Nature. That reorientation is what cures the wounded Fisher King and brings abundant life back to the realm. The healing is to learn that life is not about us, but we are about life. To Lincoln that was a deep learning that took his life-time and his life. He came to believe that he was a servant of God. He believed that the war, rooted in injustice and inequality, was in the service of God’s sovereignty and justice, and that his role and power was to bring order and union back to the nation, charity to those who suffered, and freeing equality to all who lived here.

Not unlike the Ring in The Lord of the Rings, power in this myth is not self-power. Power is other-power, power for others. The Grail King is the man for others, the King for others imitates the Grail who serves the Grail King. It is in living the truth of the servant king that the orderly, integrated, self-less king becomes a spiritual leader. If, the myth tells us, we serve our reality, we will be flooded with happiness. What then, in this story, do we live for? If it is ourselves we will be at war, if it is for others and each other, we will suffer, but we will not be wounded, but whole. We will be blessed.

The king, in this spiritual world, is not at the top of the mountain. He is in an inner chamber. But the king is in touch with some high power that is so great that, once upon a time, his original touch with that power had left him wounded, vulnerable. In other words, he feels that from his boyhood on there is a great gulf between himself, his ego-self, and the role he knows he can play as king. Unless he finds a greater vessel than his ego to hold this power he will not bring health and well-being, or peace and prosperity, to the kingdom. Lincoln as a boy felt some call to some greatness. As a middle aged man that call was his story. Beginning in the 1850’s Lincoln was awakened to the increased danger of the spread of slavery from the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling and an ideology in the words of Stephan A. Douglas of a seemingly immoral popular sovereignty ideology. Lincoln had yet to find the larger vessel for his huge talent and ambition, a vessel he re-discovered in his life-long devotion to the American idea and union. He is Parsifal searching and he is the Fisher King wounded in that myth. He will become the Grail King in communion with the Grail.

That grail will be the vessel large enough to hold his powers of being king, of ruling.  But, and here’s the rub, to grab the Grail is not the way out of the diminished health of the wounded king. Service, not achievement, salves the wound to the boy ego. Why? Because the Grail will not serve us, the Grail will not serve the ego, the Grail will not be put in the service of the kingdom. The kingdom needs to be, like the Grail King, in the service of the Grail. This is the underlying spiritual logic of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. He said himself after the address, to Thurlow Weed the political leader, that he knew people did not like to be reminded that their purposes and the Almighty’s could be, and were in this case of the long, long war, at odds.

The grail, Robert A. Johnson tell us, is like nature itself, “this great cornucopia…this great feminine outpouring, all the material of the world—the air, the sea, the animals, the oil, the forests, and all the productivity of the world—we assume that it should serve us. The lesson that we have to learn is that this cornucopia of nature does not serve us: it serves God.”

The answer to healing the Fisher King’s ego wound and the unhealthy kingdom is then that the Grail serves, not us, but the Grail King, God. As the vessel it is the icon of the feminine, feminine outpouring. The Grail and the Grail King are locked in deep and reciprocal mutuality. Lincoln, as a spiritual being, knew this. Mutual service was both the pragmatic and the spiritual dialectic of his way of being. His language is one way he reveals to us his tacit knowledge of the outpouring feminine in the ground of our being. We see this in the metaphors of the Gettysburg Address. Matter and spirit are reciprocal in him and seem, ever since his boyhood at Pigeon Creek, to have been so. While he hated working the plough he was formed turning over the earth to help his mother and father and sister to live. When his mother died he helped his father make the wooden box to put her into the ground on the small hill just over from where they had their cabin. His sister died in child-birth.

Black and white Alexander Gardner photo of Abraham Lincoln, bust, last photographic portrait.

Alexander Gardner photo of Abraham Lincoln, bust, last photographic portrait.

So when he comes to Gettysburg to dedicate the grounds as a sacred place—a burial ground and a birthing place–he knows deeply what this means. Even though it was four score and seven years ago that our fathers did what they did, what they did was feminine. Like mother earth herself they “brought forth,” they gave birth. That is what Mary does in Luke’s Gospel. She brings forth Jesus, as Lincoln would have read in the King James Bible. The Woman in the West in Revelations also “brings forth.” Lincoln was ridiculed in the papers for his gynecological imagery. It was not lost on people what he was saying. These founders of a nation had given birth to something that was conceived, conceived in a spiritual place. That place is called the idea of Liberty. When a child is born in the Bible they are taken to the Temple, as was Jesus taken to the Temple, to be dedicated on the eighth day. The creation of a nation so conceived then also has been dedicated, dedicated to a great idea, and taken to that temple: the idea that all men are created equal. We have here images, his nouns and his verbs, of birth and words that echo baptism and Biblical consecration. But, says Lincoln, we cannot dedicate, consecrate, or hallow this place where this re-birthing has happened. Why? The birthing blood has been brought by the men who died on the ground. The fragile nation and its ideal has almost died, and much death has come. Death and birth are deeply connected here, as they were in Lincoln’s life history. The killing blood and the blood of the dying have changed the goal of the warriors’ journey, the warriors’ goal of winning. Something more sacred than winning has happened. The power of sacrificial love makes a rebirth, a rebirth of freedom, possible. Sacrifice has done this, and the value of the idea that has held. The original order, the conception of the nation, has held. Liberty and the proposition of equality have held. We can assume that the sacrifice of both sides has done this, because it is for something greater than either side. Those who lost their part in this battle are, in Lincoln’s vision, still part of the testimony of America. By failing to make their vision hold, the larger vision, the Union, does hold. In Lincoln’s vision, and it is the vision that has held, it was neither southerners nor northerners who died in Pennsylvania, it was Americans who died in America and ultimately for America. The fragile child called Liberty could so easily parish from the earth, but it has been, like the Fisher King himself, restored by the Grail, the generative outpouring, serving the Grail King, God. The fragile life and frequent death of the child, as John Burt points out in “Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism,” was a major 19th century literary and cultural motif, often seen as the transforming event in the parent’s life and the re-creation of their spiritual worthiness. This was in the air in Lincoln’s time.

This is all, of course, a mystical vision. For all his distancing of himself from Christianity, Lincoln has expressed himself, in these most crucial words of his, in the symbolic language of the penultimate Christian experience, rebirth. Of course Jesus himself took the images of birth and rebirth from the sacred feminine.  Lincoln could have chosen words for that paramount Christians idea, resurrection. We remember that Lincoln is a secular spiritual person. The natural and the feminine imagery is represented in his secular mind and give his words meaning beyond the Christian community and its doctrines associated with the resurrection of Jesus.

It is a vision that is incarnational, the world of matter and the world of spirit are incorporated. In such a vision things are not simply as they seem but rather are seen for their spiritual reality. Life serving God is the same kind of reciprocal mystical vision we find in the Hebrew Bible, in the Prophets, in the Psalms, even in the prophet Muhammad when he saw all of nature and all of life, even the ships passing on the sea, as serving God and God alone.

How Lincoln expressed his version and his vision of what happened at Gettysburg comes in a language of image and symbol. As John Henry Cardinal Newman believed, such expressions come from an imagination held within the capacities of reason. But it is a language not based solely on sense perception, but on what is imagined. This of course is the deep capacity of Yonder that we have seen in Lincoln. It explains his remarkable ability to hold together paradoxical opposites. This is the heart of the kind of wisdom, as Christopher Pramuk points out in his book “Sophia,” that the contemporary religious writer Thomas Merton saw in “the hidden attunement of opposite tensions.” Opposites even to the highest degree, of evil and good, have a unity in such a vision and the words that express that unity are imaginal, poetic, and religious.

We have seen the role of imagination that John Keats saw in poetic expression. His contemporary, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with whom Keats had differences, also understood imagination to be a mode of perception. “It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate” creating an order of reason that enlarges and reorders perception through creating and mediating words. Hence the poetry of the Gettysburg Address, and it has been scanned and read as sheer poetry, serves the role of religious symbol. Life and even these deaths are the outpouring of the Grail and they consecrate the earth and serve the Grail King. Lincoln’s vision is broad here. It can be seen to say that all the men who died at Gettysburg, all those who died in the Civil War, were serving God. Of course their ideologies were different, the sides they took. Yet we see that Lincoln never took ideology as his final view, nor do spiritual visions take ideologies as the ultimate truth. There is something about human beings, north and south, black and white, that Lincoln valued, held sacred.

In this spiritual view the king is never the redeemer, the Grail is never the object to the kingdom, the Grail is to serve God and God is the redeemer. The Biblical tradition, in the voice of the prophets, always makes this distinction between king and redemption clear. It is why King David has to answer to the Prophet Nathan. In the story of Jesus it is why Jesus does not take the crown at the beginning of his ministry or at the end. The King can never be the Grail King, and this Lincoln knew. He was to serve the Grail, and for him the Grail was the conception of democracy. When the freed blacks in Richmond tried to kneel before him he quickly made them rise and told them only God is knelt to. He meant it. Both in Richmond and on the “River Queen” returning Lincoln was not the Grail King, not God, only a good king.


In addition to Quiet Fire, Duncan Newcomer is the author of Desperately Seeking Mary, a personal spiritual journey through love with dramatic encounters with “the Holy.” He has a radio feature (entitled Quiet Fire) on WERU (archived Quiet Fire talks at in Maine and teaches a course on the theme at Senior Colleges in Belfast and in Brunswick. Newcomer is a poet, preacher, and psychotherapist. He can help you any-which-way, but thinks Lincoln could help you more! He lives in Maine with Rebecca Jessup, poet and Latin teacher.