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Gathering Poems from Sandburg's 'Great Period'

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Gathering Poems from Sandburg's 'Great Period'

Gathering Poems from Sandburg's 'Great Period'

Gathering Poems from Sandburg's 'Great Period'

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Carl Sandburg

Paul Berman, editor of Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems, says the poet's best work came early in his career. Bettmann/Corbis hide caption

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Hear Carl Sandburg

The poet performs two of his most famous works.

'Fog'

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'Grass'

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Carl Sandburg received one of his two Pulitzer Prizes for a 1950 compilation of his poems. A new collection focuses on the Midwestern poet's early works, what the editor calls Sandburg's "great period."

"Like many people... I grew up with that big, fat book," says Paul Berman, editor of Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems, part of the American Poets Project at the Library of America.

"Mostly what I trimmed away was poems he wrote in his later years," Berman says. "I think [for] Sandburg, as with a lot of poets, his greatest years were early on. There was a moment there, ten years or so, beginning around 1914, when he was hot. He had the vision, he was going. He had one fine inspiration after another. That was his great period."

The new collection includes the classic "Chicago," which begins:

Hog Butcher for the World,                                                 Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,                                                 Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler.... (Full poem below.)

Berman says Sandburg was inspired by the city he saw around him.

"His genius, his inspiration in this poem and some others, was to look around the streets, at the billboards and the advertising slogans, and see in those things a language," Berman says. "And he was able to figure out that this language itself contained poetry."

'Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems'

'Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems'

Read poems from Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems , a new collection from the American Poets Project at the Library of America.

Chicago

 

      Hog Butcher for the World,

      Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

      Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;

      Stormy, 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 wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn 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.

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.

 

Fog

 

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

 

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

 

Grass

 

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, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

                    What place is this?

                    Where are we now?

                    I am the grass.

                    Let me work.

 

The Library of America

Books Featured In This Story

Selected Poems

Carl Sandburg

by Carl Sandburg and Paul Berman

Hardcover, 154 pages |

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