poem index

About this poet

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878. His parents, August and Clara Johnson, had emigrated to America from the north of Sweden. After encountering several August Johnsons in his job for the railroad, the Sandburg's father renamed the family. The Sandburgs were very poor; Carl left school at the age of thirteen to work odd jobs, from laying bricks to dishwashing, to help support his family. At seventeen, he traveled west to Kansas as a hobo. He then served eight months in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American war. While serving, Sandburg met a student at Lombard College, the small school located in Sandburg's hometown. The young man convinced Sandburg to enroll in Lombard after his return from the war.

Sandburg worked his way through school, where he attracted the attention of Professor Philip Green Wright, who not only encouraged Sandburg's writing, but paid for the publication of his first volume of poetry, a pamphlet called Reckless Ecstasy (1904). While Sandburg attended Lombard for four years, he never received a diploma (he would later receive honorary degrees from Lombard, Knox College, and Northwestern University). After college, Sandburg moved to Milwaukee, where he worked as an advertising writer and a newspaper reporter. While there, he met and married Lillian Steichen (whom he called Paula), sister of the photographer Edward Steichen. A Socialist sympathizer at that point in his life, Sandburg then worked for the Social-Democrat Party in Wisconsin and later acted as secretary to the first Socialist mayor of Milwaukee from 1910 to 1912.

The Sandburgs soon moved to Chicago, where Carl became an editorial writer for the Chicago Daily News. Harriet Monroe had just started Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, and began publishing Sandburg's poems, encouraging him to continue writing in the free-verse, Whitman-like style he had cultivated in college. Monroe liked the poems' homely speech, which distinguished Sandburg from his predecessors. It was during this period that Sandburg was recognized as a member of the Chicago literary renaissance, which included Ben Hecht, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters. He established his reputation with Chicago Poems (1916), and then Cornhuskers (1918). Soon after the publication of these volumes Sandburg wrote Smoke and Steel (1920), his first prolonged attempt to find beauty in modern industrialism. With these three volumes, Sandburg became known for his free verse poems that portrayed industrial America.

In the twenties, he started some of his most ambitious projects, including his study of Abraham Lincoln. From childhood, Sandburg loved and admired the legacy of President Lincoln. For thirty years he sought out and collected material, and gradually began the writing of the six-volume definitive biography of the former president. The twenties also saw Sandburg's collections of American folklore, the ballads in The American Songbag and The New American Songbag (1950), and books for children. These later volumes contained pieces collected from brief tours across America which Sandburg took each year, playing his banjo or guitar, singing folk-songs, and reciting poems.

In the 1930s, Sandburg continued his celebration of America with Mary Lincoln, Wife and Widow (1932), The People, Yes (1936), and the second part of his Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He received a second Pulitzer Prize for his Complete Poems in 1950. His final volumes of verse were Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960) and Honey and Salt (1963). Carl Sandburg died on July 22, 1967.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Chicago Poems (1916)
Complete Poems (1950)
Cornhuskers (1918)
Good Morning, America (1928)
Harvest Poems (1950)
Honey and Salt (1963)
In Reckless Ecstasy (1904)
Selected Poems (1926)
Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922)
Smoke and Steel (1920)
The People, Yes (1936)

Prose

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926)
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939)
Mary Lincoln: Wife and Widow (1932)
Steichen the Photographer (1929)
The American Songbag (1927)
The New American Songbag (1950)

Languages

Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
There are no handles upon a language 
Whereby men take hold of it 
And mark it with signs for its remembrance. 
It is a river, this language, 
Once in a thousand years 
Breaking a new course 
Changing its way to the ocean. 
It is mountain effluvia 
Moving to valleys 
And from nation to nation 
Crossing borders and mixing. 
Languages die like rivers. 
Words wrapped round your tongue today 
And broken to shape of thought 
Between your teeth and lips speaking 
Now and today 
Shall be faded hieroglyphics 
Ten thousand years from now. 
Sing—and singing—remember 
Your song dies and changes 
And is not here to-morrow 
Any more than the wind 
Blowing ten thousand years ago. 

This poem is in the public domain.

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878. His parents,

by this poet

poem

     To the Williamson Brothers

High noon. White sun flashes on the Michigan Avenue asphalt. Drum of hoofs and whirr of motors. Women trapsing along in flimsy clothes catching play of sun-fire to their skin and eyes.

Inside the playhouse are movies from under the sea. From the heat of pavements

poem

There is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air

poem
Lay me on an anvil, O God.  
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.  
Let me pry loose old walls.  
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.  
  
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.  
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.  
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me