Carl Sandburg The beloved poet, Carl Sandburg, changed the course of American poetry. He was a poet, novelist, journalist, and songwriter, yet the influence of his works have not always been acknowledged. Carl Sandburg’s evocations of American urban and rural life, compassion for people, and his love of nature, through his works have made an enormous contribution to the American literary scene.
Carl Sandburg was born on January 6, 1878 to illiterate parents of Swedish decent in Galesburg, Illinois. Much of Sandburg’s literary works are a result of his life time observations. He, more generously than many of his fellow authors, left a detailed account of his wanderings, his numerous jobs, his early struggles, and his successes in life. His own life fascinated him.(Rogers 19) Therefore, he felt he wanted to share his fascination with the people he enjoyed writing about. Carl Sandburg is so greatly remembered because his writing was considerably different from the writing of his contemporaries.
He let his mind travel, and be free. His works included the use of free verse, colloquialisms, an original type of rhythm, and oddly structured, prosaic poetry that emphasized key phrases and images.(clc 35, 338) Sandburg was the first of a long line of poets and authors to use the words and phrases that he created in his poetry. Sandburg’s style of writing is what changed the course of American poetry. Before Sandburg, most poetry and other literary works were considerably similar, along with dull and boring.
He carried poetry to “new horizons.” He, many times, wrote of reality, which was not always what people wanted to read, but it was reality and it had to be dealt with. This is how his writing became so known, because he dealt with what was real in our fantasy world. Sandburg was not afraid to express his true feelings and thought on people, society, nature, and life in general. One of his finest poetic achievements is a poem called The People, Yes. It is a poem about people in life, and everything life entails. The images in it range from a white man and an Indian man arguing over who knows more, to why children put beans in their ears when told not to. The People, Yes covers everyday dilemmas encountered by the common man, but have not been expressed, and it is mandated by none other than Carl Sandburg, the great American poet. “The people is a myth, an abstraction. And what myth would you put in place of the people? And what abstraction would you exchange for this one? And when has creative man not toiled deep in myth? And who fights for a bellyful only and where is any nameworth remembering for anything else than the human ab- straction woven through it with in- visible things? “Precisely who and what is the people?” Sandburg was what some might call obsessed with people, but in a positive way. He was amazed, and at the same time also disgusted with, all the diverse types of people who live in our society. The quote above is from his poem, The People, Yes. The poem’s expressions of love, hatred, happiness, and sorrow is based upon the questions in life that are answered by the people. Why are people such a puzzle? Why don’t the rich and the poor get along? Is there a way to describe and figure people out?…who knows? The answer is no one, not even Carl Sandburg, but he was the man who was able to express these thoughts in a poetic form, because he was so greatly interested with the people and their ways of life. When Sandburg’s poems were made public, people had many different views on his writing. Some people really enjoyed it, others hated it, and others felt as if it was decent writing that you could read with a dispassionate feeling. His poems, mainly The People, Yes, were rejected just as much as they was accepted. William Rose Benet, a critic, states “[of Sandburg’s writing]…it has not enough cohesion. It has not enough structure….it does not think through, as does the modern radical economist, the situation in which modern civilization finds itself. Sandburg is too interested in the half-tones of humanity, the highlights of humor, the terse queerness. He is interested in atmosphere….The new sapience, it seems to me, is what Sandburg fails to show.”(clc 35,347) Now, on the other hand Amy Lowell, another critic, has a complete opposite view on the poem’s by Carl Sandburg. “The seeing eye- Mr. Sandburg has it to a superlative degree, and wedded to it, an imaginative utterance which owes nothing whatever to literature or tradition. It is a fascinating and baffling study this of examining how Mr. Sandburg does it….It is, more than anything else, the sharp, surprising rightness of his descriptions which gives Mr. Sandburg his high position in the poetry of today.”(clc 35,341) These critics views are on the extreme opposite sides of the scale. Benet feels Sandburg’s poetry is uncohesive, unstructured, and just not sapient. While Lowell feels his poetry is imaginative and fascinating, along with baffling. If Sandburg were alive to read the analysis of his poetry by the critics, he probably would have writing a poem about it. It would have fascinated him, how two people could have such opposite views. In The People, Yes, a large percentage of the poem is based on the different views and values of people in our society. Chicago is another one of Carl Sandburg’s well known poem’s, it is part of the first volume of his poetry called Chicago Poems. Chicago Poems was Sandburg’s first book, it was published in 1916. A prominent theme in Chicago poems is the longing of ordinary people for the beauty and happiness they have never known. This clutching at dreams was not a creation of Sandburg’s fantasy, but a social phenomenon which he accurately observed.(clc 10, 447) He expressed this city-like atmosphere with energy and excitement. Sandburg was praised as one of the most energetic and original new poets of the time.(adventures 752) The poem’s energy came from the excitement felt in the city of Chicago. “And having answered so I turned once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I 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.” The admiration of his beloved city is reflected in this portion of the poem. Yet the poem also expresses a sense of brutality and hatred of which Sandburg, the realist, depicts in this passage: “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 wanton hunger.” The poems, The People, Yes and Chicago are perfect examples of the difference between Carl Sandburg and other poets who lived during his time. He based his work on reality, unlike others. And his originality was the basis of a new beginning of poets who would follow in his footsteps and write literary works regarding reality not fantasy, as brutal as it may be. Although his works are different from many other poets, Carl Sandburg is many times compared to Walt Whitman. Many people believe that Sandburg wrote his poems to imitate and reflect the works of Whitman. Whitman, like Sandburg, attempted to create a new writing style, he ” threw every English tradition out of the window in an endeavor to create a tradition that should belong to the United States.”(clc 35 346) Both Sandburg and Whitman developed their own style of writing that was followed by other poets and literary writers who admired them and their works. Many critics feel that there are more differences than similarities in the works of Whitman and Sandburg. Mainly their divergences lie in the poet’s attitude toward’s death. Whitman welcomes death, while Sandburg has a passion for life. To Sandburg- death is life’s end, not it’s fulfillment. Death is central to Whitman’s work, while Sandburg’s vision of life does not include tragedy.(clc 15 469) Sandburg is, like Whitman, called the Lincoln of poetry. “At a time when we are tempted to betray ourselves, tempted into irrationality, into superficiality, into cynicism, he celebrates what is best in us and recalls us to our heritage and to our humanity.”(clc 35 353) Abraham Lincoln, when life was harsh and irrational made the best of it, just as Sandburg does in his poetry. There became a time in Sandburg’s life when he no longer had a desire to write poems. He therefore developed a love for prose, and wrote about Abraham Lincoln, a man of whom he was compared to. By the time he had written an interesting biography on the life of Abraham Lincoln it had turned out to be six volumes.(Rogers 172) There is so much of poetry and imagination, so much of tradition mingled with fact, that some may doubt whether it be biography at all.(clc 35 344) Although Sandburg had shied away from poetry, it lingered on in the biographies of Abraham Lincoln. The documentations that Sandburg composed included much rhythm, poetry and imagination along with the facts needed to create a biography. Sandburg recognized the life and atmosphere surrounding Lincoln and put it all into poetic words, just as he did in The People, Yes and Chicago. He spoke of reality during the time of Lincoln, his life, and war, but in a manner that was enjoyed by the reader. From Sandburg’s pages one sees Lincoln as never before, in his homely, rough, pioneer society; and from the poet’s pictures one feels that he is seeing the real Lincoln, not all in details, perhaps, but at least in the main features of his life. (clc 35 344) Even before Sandburg wrote the biography of Lincoln, he had always been interested in him. In The People, Yes, Sandburg actually mentions thoughts based on Lincoln. “As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great durable curse of the race.” What is so interesting about the works of Carl Sandburg is how they are all so strongly connected to each other. All of his poem’s include an analysis on the common man in the commonplace. His study of people is out of his complex interest in them. “Mr. Sandburg loves people, I should say the ‘people.’ But I believe it is more than that. I think he has a real love for human beings….For Mr. Sandburg has a remarkable originality.”(clc 35 340) Carl Sandburg’s originality came from his desire for venture and variation. He, therefore lead the long line of becoming poets to feel free to express themselves, no matter what anyone thinks. Many of Sandburg’s works were either unacceptable or went unacknowledged for a long time.