“Child, Remove Thine Shoes, For This Be Holy Ground”


“Child, Remove Thine Shoes, For This Be Holy Ground”

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin

TS Eliot

On a stormy night in Illinois one week after September 11
I encountered old Lincoln, Honest Abe, in Evans-ton, Illinois.
He said courteously enough hoos yar,
And I said, stand, and unfold your self.

He grinned sheepishly in recognition of the old play,
And we got to talking, man to man, or man to spectre if you will,
‘Bout all the prayin’ goin on.

He said, I ain’t goin to talk about what lies yonder
Eyes have not seen,
Saving the blessedness of Nancy Hanks,
Who greeted me on the further shore,

Sayin’, child, remove thine shoes, for this be holy ground.

But let me speak to the day, and and such as them that pray,
And all these Turks that trouble the Republic
Or, whatever fool name you call them now.

If government by the people shall not perish from this earth,
We have to make it a form of secular church.
I do not blaspheme nor speak falsely,

For the same reason we cannot consecrate
We cannot dedicate
We cannot hallow this ground.

Them’s were a lot of grievin’ widow ladies there,
On the quiet greensward of that old college town,
And Horton went on and on,
And by the time I came to speak
I could not think of much to say.

When you question poli-ticians, remember this
You, or more precisely, You the People,
Voted them in. And men died,

And women cried, heaved wriggling things,
And in turn they died so that you (you)
Might live. A bullet in the back of the head

Durin’ a funny play ain’t exactly a walk in the park
Therefore I say to you who walk in the dark,
Your country, yes your country,
Your country right or wrong,
The country to which y’all belong,
Ain’t no further shore.

Dawn was breaking and he faded
Like to an old penny in a jar,
As worthless as a distant star.

Edward G. Nilges 4 September 2011: revised 19 Dec 2011


What started out as a prose essay in response to the Tea Bag’s hatred wound up in terza rima because per John Rawls, a multiconfessional and multiethnic state needs a secular religion which unlike Robespierre’s Cult of the Supreme Being must coexist with religion or I swear to God we are fucked. I am talking civil war here. Dante used this form in Italian, and American expat poet TS Eliot echoed it in Four Quartets. It is an intense, running line, a Messenger like the dispatch rider who brought the news to Wellington or Grant.

“Child, Remove Thine Shoes” was inspired by the last of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, in which on a deserted street the morning after a bombing during the war, the poet meets the ghost of a mentor, in Eliot’s case, Dante who IN TURN centered the Divine Comedy on meeting HIS mentor, Vergil of Mantua (” (“O anime cortese Mantoana”).

For in somewhat the same way a storm moved through the central States on the afternoon after Kennedy’s assassination, a storm moved in on Chicago the evening of Sep 11, a storm, I thought (looking out my window of the YMCA, at a huge flag erected by construction workers that afternoon) in which you could (like Cinna in Julius Caesar) meet a man all on fire, or President Lincoln.

Edward G. Nilges, “Study of Lincoln after Daniel Chester French, Art Institute of Chicago, 2003”, pencil, pen, colored pencil and Gimping


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