I first got into Carl Sandburg when reading a Bob Dylan bio years ago. A 22 year old Dylan paid an unannounced visit to the great poet in early 1964. Dylan brought the 86 year old poet a copy of his new The Times They are A-Changin’ album and they talked a while on the front porch.
I decided to visit that same Sandburg house October before last. It has been a National Monument since 1967, when Sandburg died. If you are ever passing through Flat Rock, NC (about 30 miles south of Asheville), I highly recommend it.
In school, I had read the poems Fog and Chicago, and somewhere along the way, Grass. Those are the three poems that are usually anthologized. After visiting his house, I decided to read all of his Chicago Poems (1916).
In them, I discovered the real Carl Sandburg. He was an anarchist. These poems have a bite to them that I had not seen in any modern poet, except maybe a few like Woody Guthrie, Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Bukowski, or Bob Dylan. Sandburg’s poems tell the working person’s side of the story. The poem Masses captures this best. Ready to Kill is my second favorite. You can access the entire book without leaving your desk by clicking here.
Recently, LFPL ordered The Day Carl Sandburg Died (DVD), and it is wonderful. If you like documentaries, I promise that you’ll like this one. He is better known for his biography of Lincoln, and lesser known for his Folk singing, but this man did it all!
Sandburg thought his greatest poem was contained in one book: The People, Yes (1936). So I decided it was time to see if I agree. There are so many gems in Chicago Poems that it would be hard to top it. The People, Yes has 107 numbered poems, each like a portrait or still life of post-depression America. Sandburg was in his late 50’s when this book was written, but there is no mellowing here. For me, Sandburg is just a continuation of what Whitman started in American poetry. L.B.J. thought so too.
I like Chicago Poems better, but both books are vital to American Poetry.
Here are a few of the poems/lines that I liked best from The People, Yes:
#9: This is my favorite poem. It concerns a father preparing a son for manhood and all the paths ahead.
“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.”
“Get off this estate.
Because it is mine.
Where did you get it?
From my father.
Where did he get it?
From his father.
And where did he get it?
He fought for it.
Well, I’ll fight you for it.”
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