Carl Sandburg A Poet By The People

Carl Sandburg, A Poet By The People, For The People, And Of The People Essay, Research Paper

Modernism stemmed from the need to overcome the repressed, overconfident Victorian dominant culture and forge a new, forward thinking culture aimed expressing a sense of urban cultural dislocation, along with an awareness of psychological theories. Carl Sandburg stayed at the forefront of the modernist poetry movement while compelling people to look deeper than the simplistic workingmen s language and free verse he employed in his poetry. While many modernist poets seemed to be exploring the moral plight of humanity, Carl Sandburg seemed to be exploring the current state of humanity with inherent optimism. Many of his writings, such as Smoke and Steel and the Chicago poems are aimed at helping people chant and evoke industrial America and some of its human elements. While many poets during the same time openly espoused fascism, Sandburg chose instead to discuss industrialism and socialism. Unlike some of his contemporary counterparts, such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg did not require that his readers be well read in history and literature. This practice made much of Eliot and Pound s poetry inaccessible to the common reader, which suited their need to halt the erosion of art to the lowest common denominator. By using free verse scattered with street corner slang and anecdotes, Sandburg created poetry that was easy for the average person to understand, enjoy, and relate to. Also in contrast to other modernist poets, Sandburg found beauty and glory in the simplest America that surrounded him: the farms, industry, landscape, culture, and, most importantly, the American people.

As a poet of the common people confronted with the complexities of the new industrial civilization, Sandburg celebrated the working man throughout his poetry, thereby giving them a sense of pride in their work and their homes. In The Windy City this is apparent: I am Chicago, I am a name given out by the breaths of working men, laughing men, a child, a belonging. He creates a sense of triumph in the poem Chicago with the line Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning

By creating vivid images that compliment Chicago s reputation, Sandburg portrays the city s stability and toughness. He also succeeds in illustrating a city that has risen above the challenges it has faced and as well as a love for the city and all its achievements.

With the Chicago poems, Sandburg was able to deplore the failures of the American dream and still ratify its possibilities. Jack was a wonderful example of this. JACK was a swarthy, swaggering son-of-a-gun.

He worked thirty years on the railroad, ten hours a day,

and his hands were tougher than sole leather.

He married a tough woman and they had eight children

and the woman died and the children grew up and

went away and wrote the old man every two years.

He died in the poorhouse sitting on a bench in the sun

telling reminiscences to other old men whose women

were dead and children scattered.

There was joy on his face when he died as there was joy

on his face when he lived–he was a swarthy, swaggering


The illustration of a hard working man that has lost everything yet still dies with joy on his face gives the reader a sense of accomplishment while simultaneously praising Jack for rising above his hardships because the sole reason that he was glad to be alive.

Sandburg, like many of his contemporaries, sought to protest against established literary practice. In his early poems, Sandburg was busy propagating American socialism as an organizer as well as in the apolitical realm of literature. His main interest was to probe the underlying character of the people, of human beings considered more generally. This is evidenced in I Am The People, The Mob :

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.

Once quoted as saying “When a nation goes down, and never comes back, when a society or civilization perishes, One condition may always be found… They forgot where they came from.” Sandburg was attempting to reestablish the boundary between literary and political life with his blunt and radical critique, as well as blend idealism with realism in an attempt to evoke a sense of purpose.

The rudimentary way that he writes makes the reader sit up and notice the little, simple things in life, and realize that is what is loved about it. Clinton South of Polk is an excellent example of this- I wander down on Clinton street south of Polk / And listen to the voices of Italian children quarreling. / And I could sleep to their musical threats and accusations. This is also apparent in A Teamsters Farewell (Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary)

Good-by now to the traffic policeman and his whistle,

The smash of the iron hoof on the stones,

All the crazy wonderful slamming roar of the street–

O God, there’s noises I’m going to be hungry for.

Sandburg celebrated the American spirit as well as the spirit of the era by pointing out that many of the things we take for granted are the very things we love so much. With poems such as these, he filled Walt Whitman s prescription for the poet- That his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.

Carl Sandburg said A man writes the best about what moves him deeply. While exhibiting a deep interest and passion in America and her people, he was also opposing things he believed to be decadent, immoral and negative, while striving for something to believe in. Sandburg seemed to be attempting a remodeling, a renewal according to the ideas of the twentieth century in addition to creating a manifestation of American middle-class morality. By showing people the hog butchers, tool makers and stackers of wheat of the world, he has achieved developing new visions and expression of life as well as transforming the inner lives of the men and women who fill this world and make it go.


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