Carl Sandburg

September 21, 2006


American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer and folklorist
Was born in Galesburg, Illinois of Swedish parents
Major Chicago poet
Poetry speaks unapologetically: direct, representative of the masses
Transforms poetry into more of a political pamphlet: changes the use of poetry
H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg

“indubitably an American in every pulse-beat”


Among the mountains I wandered and saw blue haze and red crag and was amazed; / On the beach where the long push under the endless tide maneuvers, I stood silent; / Under the stars on the prairie watching the Dipper slant over the horizon’s grass, I was full of thoughts. / Great men, pageants of war and labor, soldiers and workers, mothers lifting their children- these all I touched, and felt more solemn thrill of them. / And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than crags, tides , and stars; innumerable, patient as the darkness of night- and all broken, humble ruins of nations.

-Masses (in whole)

Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti comes along Peoria Street every morning at nine o’clock / With kindling wood piled on top of her head, her eyes looking straight ahead to find the way for her old feet.
Her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, whose husband was killed in a tunnel explosion through the negligence of a fellow-servant, / Works ten hours a day, sometimes twelve, picking onions or Jasper on the Bowmanville road. / She takes a street car at half-past five in the morning, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti does, / And gets back from Jasper’s with cash for her day’s work, between nine and ten o’clock at night. / Last week she got eight cents a box, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, picking onions for Jasper, / But this week Jasper dropped the pay to six cents a box because so many women and girls were answering the ads in the Daily News. / Jasper belongs to an Episcopal church in Ravenswood and on certain Sundays / He enjoys chanting the Nicene creed with his daughters on each side of him joining their voices with his. / If the preacher repeats old sermons of a Sunday, Jasper’s mind wanders to his 700-acre farm and how he can make it produce more efficiently / And sometimes he speculates on whether he could word an ad in the Daily News so it would bring more women and girls out to his farm and reduce operating costs. / Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti is far from desperate about life; her joy is in a child she knows will arrive to her in three months. / And now while these are the pictures for today there are other pictures of the Giovannitti people I could give you for to-morrow, / And how some of them go to the county agent on winter mornings with their baskets for beans and cornmeal and molasses. / I listen to fellows saying here’s good stuff for a novel or it might be worked up into a good play. / I say there’s no dramatist living can put old Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti into a play with that kindling wood piled on top of her head coming along Peoria Street nine o’clock in the morning.
-Onion Days (in whole)

I waited today for a freight train to pass./ Cattle cars with steers butting their horns against the bars, went by./ And a half a dozen hoboes stood on bumpers between cars. / Well, the cattle are respectable, I thought. / Every steer has its transportation paid for by the farmer sending it to market, / While the hoboes are law-breakers in riding a railroad train without a ticket. / It reminded me of ten days I spent in the Allegheny County jail in Pittsburgh. / I got ten days even though I was a veteran of the Spanish-American war. / Cooped in the same cell with me was an old man, a bricklayer and a booze-fighter./ But it just happened he, too, was a veteran soldier, and he had fought to preserve the Union and free the niggers. / We were three in all, the other being a Lithuanian who got drunk on pay day at the steel works and got to fighting a police man; / All the clothes he had was a shirt, pants and shoes– somebody got his hat and coat and what money he had left over when he got drunk.

-‘Boes (in whole)

I am the people- the mob- the crowd- the mass. / Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me? / I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes. / I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns. / I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget. / Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then- I forget. / When I , the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool- then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision. / The mob- the crowd- the mass- will arrive then.

-I Am the People, the Mob (in whole)

Hog Butcher for the World, / Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; / Storny, husky, brawling, / City of the Big Shoulders: / They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. / And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again. / And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wonton hunger. / And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and give them back the sneer and say to them: / Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning. / Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities; / Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness, / Bareheaded, / Shoveling, / Wrecking, / Planning, / Building, breaking, rebuilding, / Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, / Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs, / Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle, / Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people, / Laughing! / Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

-Chicago (in whole)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. / Shovel them under and let me work- / I am the grass; I cover all. / And pile them high at Gettysburg / And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. / Shovel them under and let me work. / Two years, then years, and the passengers ask the conductor: / What place is this? / Where are we now?
I am the grass. / Let me work.

-Grass (in whole)

Compare to the natural imagery in Rosenberg’s ‘Dead Man’s Dump’: what is the earth’s role in a time of war?
Is Sandburg’s poem ironic: is the grass a helpful force or a force of dangerous amnesia?

Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes, / sob on the long cool winding saxophones. / Go to it, O jazzmen.
Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy / tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go husha- / husha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.
Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome treetops, moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop, bang-bang! you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns, tin cans – make two people fight on the top of a stairway and scratch each other’s eyes in a clinch tumbling down the stairs.
Can the rough stuff … Now a Mississippi steamboat pushes up the night river with a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo … and the green lanterns calling to the high soft stars … a red moon rides on the humps of the low river hills … go to it, O jazzmen.

Jazz Fantasia (in whole)

Jazz was still an emerging form when Sandburg wrote this poem

There was a high majestic fooling / Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.
And day after to-morrow in the yellowing corn / There will be high majestic fooling.
The ears ripen in late summer / And come on with a conquering laughter, / Come on with a high and conquering laughter.
The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse. / One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk / And a spot of red is on its shoulder / And I never heard its name in my life.
Some of the ears are bursting. / A white juice works inside. / Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind. / Always- I never knew it any other way – / The wind and the corn talk things over together. / And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn / Talk things over together.
Over the road is the farmhouse. / The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose. / It will not be fixed till the corn is husked. / The farmer and his wife talk things over together.

-Laughing Corn (in whole)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: