Sunday, April 10, 2016

Good Old Reliable—Carl Sandburg

Time to reach into the bag of my old favorites.  Top among the is Carl Sandburg, the shambling Illinois Swede, hobo, soldier, Universalist, Socialist organizer, shirt sleeve reporter, poet, folk singer and collector, biographer, and wise man. 
Sandburg was born the century before last in 1878 and has been resting below Remembrance Rock at Flat Rock, North Carolina for 49 years.  But his work seems as modern as if it were written yesterday. 
Beyond the familiar half dozen pieces from Chicago Poems,  open up almost any page in any of the many books of verse he published over his long and productive life time and you can find something that speaks to the human condition today.
Take these three poems, picked almost at random from a list of titles.  Hear his prophetic voice on what we call ecology now, war and waste, race and rage.

Leather Leggings
They have taken the ball of earth
and made it a little thing.

They were held to the land and horses;
they were held to the little seas.
They have changed and shaped and welded;
they have broken the old tools and made
new ones; they are ranging the white
scarves of cloudland; they are bumping
the sunken bells of the Carthaginians
and Phœnicians:
they are handling
the strongest sea
as a thing to be handled.

The earth was a call that mocked;
it is belted with wires and meshed with
steel; from Pittsburg to Vladivostok is
an iron ride on a moving house; from
Jerusalem to Tokyo is a reckoned span;
and they talk at night in the storm and
salt, the wind and the war.

They have counted the miles to the Sun
and Canopus; they have weighed a small
blue star that comes in the southeast
corner of the sky on a foretold errand.

We shall search the stars again.
There are no bars across the way.
There is no end to the plan and the clue,
the hunt and the thirst.
The motors are drumming, the leather leggings
and the leather coats wait:
Under the sea

and out to the stars
we go. 

—Carl Sandburg

Prayers After a World War

Wandering oversea dreamer,
Hunting and hoarse, Oh daughter and mother,
Oh daughter of ashes and mother of blood,
Child of the hair let down, and tears,
Child of the cross in the south
And the star in the north,
Keeper of Egypt and Russia and France,
Keeper of England and Poland and Spain,
Make us a song for to-morrow.
Make us one new dream, us who forget,
Out of the storm let us have one star.

Struggle, Oh anvils, and help her.
Weave with your wool. Oh winds and skies.
Let your iron and copper help,
Oh dirt of the old dark earth.

Wandering oversea singer,
Singing of ashes and blood,
Child of the scars of fire,
Make us one new dream, us who forget.
Out of the storm let us have one star. 

—Carl Sandburg


I don’t know how he came,
shambling, dark, and strong.

He stood in the city and told men:
My people are fools, my people are young and strong, my people must learn, my people are terrible workers and fighters.
Always he kept on asking: Where did that blood come from?

They said: You for the fool killer, you for the booby hatch and a necktie party.

They hauled him into jail.
They sneered at him and spit on him,
And he wrecked their jails,
Singing, ‘God damn your jails,’
And when he was most in jail
Crummy among the crazy in the dark
Then he was most of all out of jail
Shambling, dark, and strong,
Always asking: Where did that blood come from?
They laid hands on him
And the fool killers had a laugh
And the necktie party was a go, by God.
They laid hands on him and he was a goner.
They hammered him to pieces and he stood up.
They buried him and he walked out of the grave, by God,
Asking again: Where did that blood come from?

—Carl Sandburg

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