Thursday, 20 December 2018

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) – American poet, writer, journalist, singer and songwriter

Born in Galesburg, Illinois, USA on 6th January 1878, Carl’s parents were Clara Mathilda (née Anderson) and August Sandberg, who were of Swedish descent. He left school at thirteen and did a variety of jobs, later becoming a journalist on the “Chicago Daily News”.  He volunteered for military service during the Spanish-American War of 1898.   In 1908, he married Lilian Steichen, sister of the photographer Edward Steichen who served in France with the Photography Division of the American Army Signal Corps in 1917.

In 1919, Carl won the Pulitzer Prize (known then as the Columbia University Prize) for his poetry collection "Cornhuskers". The Award was shared with fellow poet Margaret Widdemer for her collection “The Old Road to Paradise”.

Carl won other Pulitzer Prizes – in 1940 for History for the four-volume “The War Years” and in 1951 for “Complete Poems”.

Carl died in 1967, leaving behind an enormous legacy of work. His body was cremated and his ashes were interred under "Remembrance Rock", a granite boulder located behind the house in Galesburg in which he was born.  When Carl died, Lyndon B. Johnson, President of America, said "Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America."

Two war poems (1914 – 1915) by by Carl Sandburg

77. “Wars”

In the old wars drum of hoofs and the beat of shod feet.
In the new wars hum of motors and the tread of rubber tires.
In the wars to come silent wheels and whirr of rods not
yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars clutches of short swords and jabs into
faces with spears.
In the new wars long range guns and smashed walls, guns
running a spit of metal and men falling in tens and
In the wars to come new silent deaths, new silent hurlers
not yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars kings quarreling and thousands of men
In the new wars kings quarreling and millions of men
In the wars to come kings kicked under the dust and
millions of men following great causes not yet
dreamed out in the heads of men.

73. “Buttons”

I have been watching the war map slammed up for advertising in front of the newspaper office.
Buttons—red and yellow buttons—blue and black buttons—are shoved back and forth across the map.
A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one inch west.

(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in a red soak along a river edge,
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling death in their throats.)
Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one inch on the war map here in front of the newspaper office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing to us?

From “Chicago Poems” (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1916)