Carl Sandburg 1878-1967
(Full name Carl August Sandburg; has also written under the pseudonyms Charles A. Sandburg, Militant, and Jack Phillips) American poet, biographer, novelist, journalist, songwriter, editor, and author of children's books.
The following entry presents criticism of Sandburg's works. See also Carl Sandburg Literary Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 4, 10, 15.
One of America's most celebrated poets during his lifetime, Sandburg developed a unique and controversial form of free verse that captured the rhythms and color of Midwestern English vernacular. Sometimes dismissed for his sentimental depictions of urban and agrarian landscapes and for his simple style, Sandburg is nonetheless lauded for his rhapsodic and lyrical technique and his effective patterns of parallelism and repetition. In Chicago Poems (1916), his first major collection and one of his most respected works, Sandburg employed images and topics not commonly considered poetical to paint realistic portraits of ordinary people in such environments as the railroad yard, the marketplace, and the factory. His work in Chicago Poems and a number of further collections, generally recognizable by its loosely-structured, prose-like versification, broke many of the established poetic norms of the period in terms of literary style and subject. While occasionally disparaged by critics for these offenses, Sandburg's works have since been numbered among the most influential in twentieth-century American verse, although comparatively few of his individual poems continue to be widely studied or read.
Sandburg was one of seven children born to Swedish immigrants in Galesburg, Illinois. Although Sandburg's parents were fluent in both English and Swedish, they did little to encourage their children's education in either language. Nevertheless, Sandburg developed an interest in reading and writing but was forced to leave school at age thirteen to help supplement the family income. Before borrowing his father's railroad pass at age eighteen to visit Chicago for the first time, Sandburg drove a milk wagon, worked in a barber shop, and was an apprentice tinsmith. He would later utilize the images and vernacular he was exposed to during such experiences to create verse reflective of daily life among the working class. After spending three and a half months traveling through Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado on the railroad, Sandburg volunteered for service in the Spanish-American War in 1898, and served in Puerto Rico. As a returning veteran he was offered free tuition for one year at Lombard College in Galesburg, which he accepted. He studied there for four years but left in 1902 before graduating. It was at Lombard that Sandburg began to develop his talents for writing, encouraged by the scholar Philip Green Wright. On a small hand press in the basement of his home, Wright set the type for Sandburg's first publications: In Reckless Ecstasy (1904), Incidentals (1905), The Plaint of a Rose (1905), and Joseffy (1906). These four slim volumes contain Sandburg's juvenilia and are stylistically conventional. In retrospect, Sandburg declared them “many odd pieces … not worth reprint.” First in Wisconsin and later in Chicago, Sandburg worked as a reporter for a number of newspapers, including the Milwaukee Daily News and later the small, left-wing Day Book, in which appeared a handful of his early poems. Sandburg soon gained recognition when Harriet Monroe, editor of the progressive literary periodical Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, published six of his poems in 1914. During this time Sandburg cultivated a number of literary friendships with, among others, Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, and Sherwood Anderson, and gained the attention of Henry Holt and Company, the firm that was to publish his first significant volume of poetry, Chicago Poems. This work and the five collections that succeeded it over the course of the following two decades contributed to Sandburg's rise to popular esteem, making him one of the most recognized American poets of the first half of the twentieth century. Between 1917 and 1932 Sandburg also served as a reporter and later a columnist for the Chicago Daily News. During World War II his weekly column appeared in the Chicago Daily Times, and he made a number of radio broadcasts for the U.S. Office of War Information, many of them transcribed in his Home Front Memo (1943). Beginning in this period Sandburg also undertook an increasingly exhaustive schedule of lectures and public performances, in which he recited his poetry, spoke, and sang folksongs with his own guitar accompaniment. The publication of Sandburg's Complete Poems in 1950 earned him a Pulitzer Prize, although its critical impact was scant. Having published his last collection of new poetry, Honey and Salt (1963), at the age of eight-five, Sandburg retired to his estate in Flat Rock, North Carolina. He died there in the summer of 1967 and was subsequently honored in a National Memorial Service at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Chicago Poems, with its humanistic rendering of urban life, place descriptions, and casual assemblage of character sketches, provides a stark but idealized view of the working class. “Chicago,” the centerpiece of the work and one of Sandburg's most celebrated poems, not only portrays the faults of the Midwestern metropolis but also praises what Sandburg considered the joy and vitality integral to life there. While Chicago Poems depicts the urban experience, Sandburg's next volume, Cornhuskers (1918), explores the realities of agrarian life. In such poems as “Prairie” and “Laughing Corn,” Sandburg expresses his fondness for family life and nature. Also included in this collection are a number of war poems that depict images of soldiers who died in conflicts previous to World War I. Smoke and Steel (1920) addresses complex postwar issues such as industrialization and urbanization and is less optimistic and idealistic than Sandburg's earlier works. With Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922), Sandburg began using a poetic technique in which he presented a series of images in parallel forms as well as in rough, colloquial language. Good Morning, America (1928), Sandburg's fifth significant volume, begins with thirty-eight “Tentative (First Model) Definitions of Poetry,” which adumbrate a view that Sandburg subsequently neglected to codify into a consistent critical theory of verse. In this collection Sandburg delves into mythology, history, and universal humanism through extended use of proverbs and folk idioms. A new concentration on history foreshadowed the content of Sandburg's epic prose-poem, The People, Yes (1936). In this work Sandburg fused American colloquialisms with descriptions of historical and contemporary events to create a collection of verbal portraits of the American people. Sandburg's Complete Poems is an accumulation of his six previous volumes of poetry, as well as seventy-two new pieces. A final collection of new material, Honey and Salt illustrates a number of stylistic and thematic developments in Sandburg's late work and depicts a quiet and reflective mastery of the poetic craft in its title poem, as well as in the pieces “Foxglove” and “Timesweep.” Several other volumes, including Breathing Tokens (1978) and Billy Sunday and Other Poems (1993), were published posthumously but contain little or no previously unreleased poetic material. Among Sandburg's non-poetic works, his monumental multi-volume biographies of the sixteenth U.S. president, including Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926) and Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), and his autobiography entitled Carl Sandburg (1926) are considered notable contributions to their respective genres. Although deferential to the former president, Sandburg's Lincoln biography endeavors to remedy many of the excesses of previous works on the subject and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1940.
Sandburg was an eminent figure of the “Chicago Renaissance” and the era encompassing World War I and the Great Depression. His Chicago Poems was upon its initial publication in 1916 greeted with mixed reaction, with many reviewers finding its subject matter startling and its prosaic poetry oddly structured. Nevertheless, the volume proved a career-making event and is generally regarded as one of Sandburg's finest poetic achievements. Together with six subsequent volumes into the mid-1930s, Sandburg solidified his success as the most popularly known poet on the American scene. Less well received by established critics, Sandburg witnessed a decline in his reputation by mid-century as his folksy and regional approach was overshadowed by the allusive and cerebral verse of such poets as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. While Sandburg continued to depict ordinary people in their everyday settings, other poets were gaining critical acclaim for internalizing and codifying experiences. Despite the fact that it was honored with a Pulitzer Prize in 1951, Sandburg's Complete Poems elicited little more than brief commentary on the occasion of its publication; few took the opportunity to evaluate the whole of Sandburg's poetic career. Since Sandburg's death in 1967 a few critics have spoken nostalgically about the “Chicago Poet” of 1916, but sustained critical analysis of his collected poetic works has been limited. More recently, some commentators have suggested that this disfavor was a result of the whims of various critical movements and not based on the strength or significance of Sandburg's poetic contribution. Despite continued disputation, Sandburg is frequently recognized as one of the outstanding and innovative American poets of the twentieth century and a successor to Walt Whitman as an emblematic poet of American populism.
In Reckless Ecstasy 1904
The Plaint of a Rose 1905
Chicago Poems 1916
Smoke and Steel 1920
Slabs of the Sunburnt West 1922
Selected Poems of Carl Sandburg 1926
Good Morning, America 1928
The People, Yes 1936
Complete Poems 1950
Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 1960
Honey and Salt 1963
Breathing Tokens 1978
Billy Sunday and Other Poems 1993
Selected Poems 1996
The Chicago Race Riots (journalism) 1919
Rootabaga Stories (fables) 1922
Rootabaga Pigeons (fables) 1923
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. (biography) 1926
Carl Sandburg (autobiography) 1926
The American Songbag [editor] (songs) 1927
Mary Lincoln: Wife and Widow (biography) 1932
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years 4 vols. (biography) 1939
Home Front Memo (journalism/radio broadcasts) 1943
Remembrance Rock (novel) 1948...
(The entire section is 109 words.)
SOURCE: Monroe, Harriet. Review of Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg. Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 8, no. 2 (May 1916): 90-93.
[In the following review of Chicago Poems, Monroe characterizes Sandburg's work as “a masterpiece of portraiture” that ranges from the “rugged” to the “exquisitely delicate.”]
In this American melting-pot the English language becomes the mother tongue of the sons of Perse and Slav and Swede; and through that language, and the literature born in it, more and more as time goes on, must blow tropic and arctic airs, winds from East and West, perfumes of Araby and salt spray from the northern seas. No prophet can measure the ultimate enrichment of our art through this enrichment of our racial strain. Provincialism will hardly survive, and our democracy of precepts and precedents—an Anglo-Saxon inheritance, like our language, from the patterned and fenced-in past—will have to expand to the larger tests of cosmopolitanism and human brotherhood.
From certain of these newer Americans and their sons have come of late at once the harshest challenge and the most idealistic appreciation of this incomplete, but urgent and hopeful, democracy which they find here. Such voices as Sandburg the second-generation Swede, Giovannitti the Italian, Rosenfeld the Yiddish Jew, Ajan the Syrian, are uttering at once the challenge and the ideal with a passion rare...
(The entire section is 889 words.)
SOURCE: Frederick, John T. Review of Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg. Midland 2, no. 6 (June 1916): 189-93.
[In the following review, Frederick praises the “clearness and validity” of Sandburg's interpretation of early twentieth-century America in his Chicago Poems.]
When Poetry published a group of poems by Carl Sandburg, a few months ago, a friend remarked “Here is a real poet.” That judgment is verified by the recently published volume, Chicago Poems. The book lacks uniformity of purpose and achievement, and much of it is relatively trivial. But nevertheless it constitutes a permanent contribution to the literature of the Middle West and of America.
In its form Sandburg's work falls in the modern classes of imagism and free verse. In certain of the best poems of the book, such as “Chicago,” the manner of Whitman is suggested, perhaps as much by kinship of thought as by the form. It is amusing to observe, by the way, how studiously the modern critics of free verse steer clear of good old Walt. The sweeping and scathing condemnation which is so common seems a trifle impotent when one thinks of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.” It is almost equally inapplicable to a poem of such sheer beauty and power as is found in “The Road and the End”:
I shall foot it Down the roadway in the dusk, Where shapes of hunger wander And...
(The entire section is 1050 words.)
SOURCE: Zwaska, Caesar. Review of Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg. Little Review 3, no. 5 (August 1916): 9-11.
[In the following review, Zwaska comments on Sandburg as a success among modern poets, and on the vast range of life displayed in Chicago Poems.]
It has come to be that on the stage, where once we watched for artists, we find only vainly strutting weak-willed human beings. We are not held, and the light within the sacred space grows dimmer. We lose all interest in places where once we have found Art.
And how desperate we have become!
The procession of the Imagists has been the only sacred thing before our eyes—thin and fragrant. Their fragility has the sap of eternity; blustering winds, blowing through the gaps back-stage, tear at them in vain. The Imagists have grown straight and strong. The beauty of their tiny procession strikes into our very hearts the emptiness, the appalling desolation, of our position.
Carl Sandburg has understood the failures and the lies and exposed the cause. He has shown the lie of your government and the farce and folly of monuments to those who kill to keep it alive. He exposes your little deaths and their perfumed sorrow and the bunk of words and antics of your Billy Sunday and fellow citizens. He has heard the “fellows saying here's good stuff for a novel or it might be worked up into a good play,”...
(The entire section is 870 words.)
SOURCE: Hackett, Francis. Review of Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg. New Republic 8, no. 104 (28 October 1916): 328-29.
[In the following review, Hackett admires the intensity and rhythm of Chicago Poems but disagrees with Sandburg's vision of Chicago.]
We seem to be getting new popular notions as to rhythm. It is not so very long since Ruskin raged about Wagner pretty much as he raged about Whistler. It was the correct philistine performance to resist the rhythm of Wagner and set him down as noise. People have already forgotten this senseless conservatism. The conceptions of dance rhythm and verse rhythm have similarly, recently, emancipated themselves. For ages the dancing “master” had complete charge of the thing called choreography, and he cared for nothing but the most regular rhythms. In poetry it was practically the same. “Hey diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon”—the sublimations of this rhythm were enjoyed as “real” music, especially when achieved by the great Algernon Charles, and fun was made of Walt Whitman. It was not felt then so much as now that whatever the beauty of Swinburne's rhythms Whitman's had their own beauty, to which every ear could become attuned. The wonder now is that everyone did not perceive right off that the modern flexibility in verbal rhythm was no more extraordinary than the flexibility in the rhythm of dancer...
(The entire section is 1334 words.)
SOURCE: Lowell, Amy. “Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg.” In Tendencies in Modern American Poetry, pp. 139-232. New York: Macmillan, 1917.
[In the following excerpt, Lowell considers Sandburg's life, his work as a propagandist and lyric poet, and his place in the American poetic tradition.]
… To turn from Edgar Lee Masters to Carl Sandburg is like crossing the line of a generation. In actual years, they are not so far apart, but they represent the two sides of the barrier of change. Mr. Sandburg, although intellectually and poetically in the second stage of our “movement,” belongs to the new America which I have called multi-racial. He springs from the strong immigrant class which comes yearly in boat-loads to our shores. It is he and his ilk who are moving us away from our Anglo-Saxon inheritance. It is he and his ilk who bring us the points of view which are working so surely, if insidiously, upon the whole body of the people.
Some day, America will be a nation; some day, we shall have a national character. Now, our population is a crazy quilt of racial samples. But how strong is that Anglo-Saxon ground-work which holds them all firmly together to its shape, if no longer to its colour!
Mr. Sandburg is of Swedish stock. The stock which has given to the world Gustaf Fröding and Selma Lagerlöf. One has only to turn the pages of “Gösta Berling” to see...
(The entire section is 7475 words.)
SOURCE: Untermeyer, Louis. “Carl Sandburg.” In The New Era in American Poetry, pp. 95-109. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1919.
[In the following essay, Untermeyer extols the combination of strength, delicacy, and passion in the verses of Chicago Poems and Cornhuskers.]
I can begin this chapter on Carl Sandburg in no better way than by admitting the worst thing that most of his adverse critics charge against him—his brutality. And, without hastening to soften this admission, I would like to quote a short passage from a volume to which I have already referred. In Synge's preface to his Poems and Translations (published in 1911) he wrote, “In these days poetry is usually a flower of evil or good; but it is the timber that wears most surely, and there is no timber that has not strong roots among the clay and worms. … Even if we grant that exalted poetry can be kept successful by itself, the strong things of life are needed in poetry also, to show that what is exalted or tender is not made by feeble blood. It may almost be said that before verse can be human again, it must learn to be brutal.”
John Masefield was the first in England to respond to this rousing prophecy and, with half a dozen racy narratives, he took a generation of readers out of the humid atmosphere of libraries and literary hot-houses. He took them out into the coarse sunlight and the rude air....
(The entire section is 3873 words.)
SOURCE: Benjamin, Paul L. “A Poet of the Common-Place.” Survey 45 (2 October 1920): 12-13.
[In the following essay, Benjamin lauds Sandburg as a poet of sympathy, simplicity, and the everyday.]
The poetry of Carl Sandburg, the poet who loves the common folk, and who weaves into the meshes of his song the simple, homely things of life—the Kansas farmer with the corn-cob between his teeth, the red drip of the sunset, the cornhuskers with red bandannas knotted at their ruddy chins—cannot be shredded apart from Carl Sandburg, the man. Indeed, as I write I seem to be chatting with him about his work and about the moving things of life, the deep, rich things, of running waters, of companionship with birds and trees, of love and tenderness, of life among those who sweat and toil—those secret, hidden things which only those who are ambassadors to men can truly know and understand.
I see him leaning across the table in the little Italian restaurant, the most human, the most intensely alive man I have ever known. It is his face that is arresting—beautiful as the faces of strong men are beautiful, as Lincoln's is—a brooding face—gnarled and furrowed—cleft chin—a mouth that loops itself into smiles or that booms with deep laughter—“granite” eyes that glow—steel gray hair. Though strong and compelling, and though inevitably the conversation whips about him he has...
(The entire section is 1785 words.)
SOURCE: Loeber, William. Review of Chicago Poems, Cornhuskers, and Smoke and Steel, by Carl Sandburg. Double Dealer 3, no. 14 (February 1922): 105-07.
[In the following review of Sandburg's first three major volumes of verse, Loeber argues against those critics who dismiss Sandburg's poetry as merely “tough” or “insensitive.”]
Snobbishness is so characteristically an imperishable human trait, it is high time it came to be listed among the virtues. Even so universal an appreciation as the appreciation of literature is touched and tainted by this dry-rot of the critical attitude.
Last week I read a paragraph by Dr. Felix E. Schelling, Phi Beta Kappa senator or whatever those elders are called, and luminary of the Department of English, University of Pennsylvania. His statement in substance was a tilt of the academic nose. He declared that Carl Sandburg need trouble no one especially; that Carl Sandburg represented the intellectual Tough, and that we could ignore him as we can ignore the Tough on the streets. “… he is just a man who sets out to find ugly things and to tell about them in an ugly way.”
Perhaps, Mr. Sandburg would thank me but little for being irritated by such dusting of sensitive hands; perhaps he would prefer that I forget Dr. Schelling and his dusting; perhaps Mr. Sandburg welcomes the name of Tough. I don't know....
(The entire section is 1465 words.)
SOURCE: Pound, Ezra. “Ezra Pound on Sandburg.” Double Dealer 3, no. 17 (May 1922): 277-78.
[In the following essay, Pound writes flippantly on the subject of labeling Sandburg a “tough” poet.]
Ezra Pound writes from Paris, with particular reference to the article in The Double Dealer for February entitled “The Literary Tough” (q. v.):
“Neither Sandburg's last book nor Professor Schelling's review of it has reached me. As an ‘effete neo-European’ may I be permitted to ask whether ‘tough’ is a term of insult?
Sandburg was a lumber-jack, at least that was, I think, the term used in the first introduction of him. His ability was recognized both in Chicago and London about ten years ago. Let us for the sake of argument say that he is a ‘tough’:
A. In the language of the so indubitably refined brothers Goncourt: ‘Are there prescribed classes in literature?’
B. If Sandburg still is a tough, whose fault is it?
Sandburg has been known for ten years, there has been plenty of time for some University to offer him a fellowship, with leisure to browse in its library and ‘polish’ his language. But no, despite the anglo-olatry of many of our ‘English Departments’ fellowships are reserved for the docile mediocrity.
Three forces in America decline to unite; the...
(The entire section is 873 words.)
SOURCE: Boynton, Percy H. “The Voice of Chicago: Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg.” English Journal 11, no. 10 (December 1922): 610-20.
[In the following excerpt, Boynton discusses Sandburg as a Chicago writer, the “brutality” of his language, his concern with social injustice, and his poetic frankness.]
… With the years just following the World's Fair of 1893, Chicago
Gigantic, wilful, young, … With restless violent hands and casual tongue
became vocal in a new way. The city had never been voiceless, though up to these years the rest of the country had heard little from it but the shouts from the wheat pit and the uproar of the Haymarket Riots. Long after Far West and Gulf and Tidewater and Southern Mountain regions had been heard from in poetry and fiction, Chicago had not told a story, written a song, or painted a picture. The school child—who is averagely unschooled in contemporary literature—required to make a list of Illinois authors, searches out the imported Eugene Field, adds Lincoln, if reminded that the great president wrote great prose, and stops at that.
The Columbian Exposition supplied an immense new impulse. Theodore Thomas and the orchestra, Daniel French and the art museum, William R. Harper and the university, furnished rallying-points and attracted the support of local millions. Young authors, artists, sculptors,...
(The entire section is 1648 words.)
SOURCE: Cook, Howard Willard. “Carl Sandburg.” In Our Poets of Today, pp. 129-35. New York: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1923.
[In the following excerpt, Cook briefly summarizes Sandburg's life and career as a poet up to 1923.]
“Carl Sandburg is an observer with sympathy but without fear. … He puts words to the uses of bronze. His music at times is of clearest sweetness like the tinkling of blue chisels; at other times it has the appropriate harshness of resisting metal.”
So Carl Sandburg is described by Edgar Lee Masters in writing of his Chicago Poems, published in April, 1916.
A number of poems included in this volume were first printed in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, and in Reedy's Mirror. Their creator is a man who glories in free verse, whose lines are sometimes almost primeval in their intensity, but they are American to the core, and re-echo something of Whitman in both form and expression.
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...
(The entire section is 1912 words.)
SOURCE: Weirick, Bruce. “The Rise of the Middle West.” In From Whitman to Sandburg in American Poetry: A Critical Survey, pp. 192-221. New York: Macmillan, 1924.
[In the following excerpt, Weirick calls Sandburg the chief poet of the Middle West and the principal successor to Walt Whitman in American poetry.]
The chief figure in middle western poetry, the poet who unites in himself many of the interests which these other writers suggest or touch on merely, and perhaps the chief figure in American poetry since Whitman, is Carl Sandburg. In his book there is a large massiveness, a variety, and a stirring, that is vastly nearer the heart of things than either Masters' cynicism or Lindsay's optimism. Big, lumbering, Swedish, amorphic, kindly, and crude, class-conscious, and violently humanitarian, Sandburg may best be described as a clay-footed Titan. With his elephantine hands he holds now the pen of an etcher whose work is in the cool blues of Lake Michigan or in the grim red flames of those furnaces that by night illuminate her dark waters. And then, wearied with the delicacies of color and restraint, he flings the pen aside, and stalks with Cyclopean steps about the little whirling streets of his city, flinging magnetic curses, and piling job on job, and pashing out with those big unheeding feet of his whatever delicate flower of art or life is unlucky enough to come in his way. Until, tired with his...
(The entire section is 2715 words.)
SOURCE: Jones, Llewellyn. “Carl Sandburg: Formalist.” In First Impressions: Essays on Poetry, Criticism, and Prosody, pp. 53-68. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1925.
[In the following excerpt, Jones evaluates Sandburg as a poet and underscores his strongly satirical voice.]
In the layman's mind there are two kinds of physician: the up-to-date specialist with his elaborate examinations, his apparatus, and his “air”; and, on the other hand, the rough-and-ready country doctor with his absence of “air,” his hail-fellow-well-met attitude, his lack of up-to-date science, and his ability to cure.
Having made this nice distinction between doctors, the public is very likely to apply it to the poets. It likes to think of some poets, Robert Bridges, for instance, as scholarly, certain, using each metrical device with intention, and knowing just what they are aiming at. And in contrast to those poets it places men of whom, in its mind, Carl Sandburg is an example: rough and ready, empirical, singing in free verse because that comes most natural to them, democratic to the verge of being—to use another of this public's words,—bolshevistic; breaking down at least the decent and orderly bounds of metre and the hedges wisely placed by their poetic forbears about the sacred plot of poetry and meant to delimit its sphere from the dirtier and dustier realm of prose.
(The entire section is 3722 words.)
SOURCE: Phelps, William Lyon. “Sara Teasdale, Alan Seeger, and Others.” In The Advance of English Poetry in the Twentieth Century, pp. 277-311. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1925.
[In the following excerpt, Phelps finds Chicago Poems “overrated” but acknowledges that Sandburg is an original writer with the “true power of poetic interpretation.”]
Carl Sandburg sings of Chicago with husky-haughty lips. I like Chicago and I like poetry; but I do not much care for the combination as illustrated in Mr. Sandburg's volume, Chicago Poems. I think it has been overrated. It is pretentious rather than important. It is the raw material of poetry, rather than the finished product. Mere passion and imagination are not enough to make a poet, even when accompanied by indignation. If feeling and appreciation could produce poetry, then we should all be poets. But it is also necessary to know how to write.
Carl Sandburg was born at Galesburg, Illinois, on the sixth of January, 1878, He has “worked his own way” through life with courage and ambition, performing any kind of respectable indoor and outdoor toil that would keep him alive. In the Spanish war, he immediately enlisted, and belonged to the first military company that went to Porto Rico. In 1898 he entered Lombard College; after his Freshman year, he tried to enter West Point, succeeding in every test—physical...
(The entire section is 711 words.)
SOURCE: Whipple, Thomas King. “Carl Sandburg.” In Spokesmen: Modern Writers and American Life, pp. 161-83. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1928.
[In the following essay, Whipple surveys Sandburg's poetic sensibility and vision, arguing that while his talents and significance are considerable, Sandburg's poetry is sometimes poorly realized.]
The final impression left by Sandburg's four volumes of poetry is one of much power ill controlled. Not only has his work variety, ranging from a harsh strident realism through a romantic, tender feeling for natural beauty to a dim evocation of hinted mystery; it is not only varied, but variable—that is, uneven and uncertain. It is a medley of high poetry, flat prose, and showy counterfeit. Such unsureness is a sign that Sandburg is quite uncritical, that his taste is lax and undisciplined. His is an extraordinary aptitude for poetic utterance, ruled by little judgment. That is why his poetry is seldom a finished product, a thing absolutely done; in that sense, it is generally crude and raw. It constitutes a first-rate collection of matrixes, with a cut stone only here and there. It is, in short, chiefly ore—singularly rich ore, with perfect though usually tiny crystals embedded in it, but still ore that has not been passed through the crucible, that remains untransmuted, full of dross and slag.
To such imperfection Sandburg is peculiarly...
(The entire section is 6071 words.)
SOURCE: Compton, Charles H. “Who Reads Carl Sandburg?” South Atlantic Quarterly 28, no. 2 (April 1929): 190-200.
[In the following essay, Compton collects responses to Sandburg's works from a number of ordinary readers.]
Ten years ago the critics had their fling at Sandburg. Today he is accepted. Anthologies of modern verse include him—some with due praise, others without enthusiasm. What about the general reader, the gentle reader, the man in the street, the flapper, flaming youth? Are they reading him? Where will you find them, that we may ask them? They are all represented among the users of the modern public library, today the most democratic, and as yet the freest and least restrained agency in placing the fruits of knowledge, (the good and the evil, shall we say) before the people. It is for them to choose—the detective story for the tired business man, the good sweet story for the good sweet woman, but Sandburg for others.
An examination of the records in the public library of a large American city disclosed the identity of about one hundred recent readers of Sandburg's poetry. They in most part have the same street addresses as the characters of Sandburg's own creation. Today everything is measured from the electron to the universe, but who has attempted to measure that elusive and yet certain influence of one personality upon another? We have not even begun to think...
(The entire section is 4835 words.)
SOURCE: Kreymborg, Alfred. “Springfield, Spoon River and the Prairies.” In Our Singing Strength: A History of American Poetry, pp. 368-94. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1934.
[In the following essay, Kreymborg traces Sandburg's poetic development from Chicago Poems to Good Morning, America.]
… In 1914, Harriet Monroe's Poetry issued a group of poems by a stranger named Carl Sandburg. It included the ode to the “Hog Butcher for the World,” Chicago. A lanky galoot, with a bang over one eye, had finally arrived: he was thirty-six at the time. One recalls the violent sensation the group aroused. What right had any man to be so brutal in print, and what right had our most brutal city to such eulogies? How in the name of America could culture continue if it fell into the hands of Swedes and stevedores and picked up the slang of filthy Mid-Western pavements? And what was a poetry magazine doing out there in the jungles, with a woman, two women, at the head? The next thing the effete East had to hear was that Chicago had become the literary capital of the nation: egregious absurdity, scandalous braggadocio. But this terrible event had actually occurred, and New York had gone the way of Philadelphia and Boston. One man, more than any other, had been responsible for the catastrophe: this son of an emigrant Swede, this child of a place called Galesburg, this truck-handler,...
(The entire section is 3386 words.)
SOURCE: Cargill, Oscar. “Carl Sandburg: Crusader and Mystic.” College English 11, no. 7 (April 1950): 365-72.
[In the following essay, Cargill investigates political themes in Sandburg's writing, which he finds to be ultimately detrimental to Sandburg's later poetry.]
With a guitar to strum and a sympathetic audience, Carl Sandburg could make Harry S. Truman's budget message sound, if not like “Lycidas,” at least like Allen Tate's “Ode to the Confederate Dead.” The hardest critical problem, for those of us who have on occasion been captivated by Sandburg's infectious grin, vibrant baritone, and communicable relish as he literally licks off the syllables in reciting his verse, is to decide how much of the joy of that experience belongs to the score, so to speak, and how much to the singer. The problem is not facilely resolved by reading the verses to ourselves, for our mimetic imagination may be as commonplace as our vocal chords and the inward ear (however perceptive of the horns of elfland, faintly blowing) may be deaf to what one of the newer of the New Critics, drawing a happy analogy from the idea of “multiple meaning,” may call the “multiple melody” or “total melody” of a poem. If the poet recited apparently dubious verses with a magical lilt, lilt is intrinsic to the proper recitation of the verses, is it not? At least the case seems better...
(The entire section is 4590 words.)
SOURCE: Spiller, Robert E., et al. “The ‘New’ Poetry.” In Literary History of the United States: History, Third Edition, pp. 1171-96. New York: Macmillan, 1963.
[In the following excerpt from a summary volume of U.S. literary history, the unsigned critic alleges that there is no significant stylistic development among Sandburg's collections of poetry but acknowledges that The People, Yes (1936) “is one of the great American books.”]
… Of the many poets whose careers Poetry helped to shape, none went so far on his own road as Carl Sandburg. He believed always that the best hope of the people is to be found in the men with “free imaginations, bringing changes into a world resenting change.” Such a man he was himself, his ear laid to the heart of America. In his six volumes of poetry and in the six volumes of his great life of Lincoln (The Prairie Years, 1926; The War Years, 1939) he was a reporter of the dreams of the people, stronger than death; a champion of man the shaper and maker, man the answer. Not even Whitman, with whom he is habitually compared, knew America as he knew it.
Whitman knew America, in part at first hand, in part intuitively, projecting what he experienced of it, through his imagination, into the vast spaces he had not crossed. Sandburg knew it along his senses. One is reminded as one reads his poems, from which...
(The entire section is 1336 words.)
SOURCE: Basler, Roy P. “Your Friend the Poet—Carl Sandburg.” Midway 10, no. 2 (autumn 1969): 3-15.
[In the following essay, Basler appraises Sandburg as a poet outside of the literary establishment.]
For the period of my life during which I was engaged in editing The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, it was my fortune to operate in and from a suite of offices in the First National Bank Building of what has been known with pride, locally at least, as “Lincoln's Home Town.” One day, as I entered the elevator on the way up, I was greeted by a lawyer from the adjoining office, with the news that “Your friend the poet is upstairs looking for you.” For it was as a poet that Carl Sandburg was known then, and I think, will continue to be known for a long time to come, in spite of critical opinion at present heavily to the contrary.
If everyone in Springfield, Illinois, did not recognize Carl's “phyzzog,” certainly his was the most generally known face of a living poet, there as elsewhere, in the United States. From granitic sculpture in moments of concentration or anger, to magical mobility in humor or friendship, it was a face you did not forget, not for the least reason by way of the silver lock hanging just over his left eye, which Robert Frost always insisted was barbered thus by careful design. And it was first of all a poet's face, its enigma best described by...
(The entire section is 4927 words.)
SOURCE: Van Doren, Mark. Introduction to Carl Sandburg: A Bibliography of Sandburg Materials in the Collections of the Library of Congress, pp. 1-15. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1969.
[In the following essay, Van Doren assesses Sandburg's varied poetic talent and accomplishments.]
When he was fifty, Carl Sandburg once said, “there was puzzlement as to whether I was a poet, a biographer, a wandering troubadour with a guitar, a midwest Hans Christian Andersen, or a historian of current events whose newspaper reporting was gathered into a book, The Chicago Race Riots.” This was before he had published the last four volumes of his Abraham Lincoln, or The People, Yes, or Remembrance Rock, or Complete Poems, or Always the Young Strangers, to make no mention of further works that might have made the puzzlement still greater. And yet there should never have been any puzzlement, for the first of all these things is what Sandburg plainly was from the beginning, and so it was until the end in 1967. Sandburg was a poet, and everybody knew he was. It was something that couldn't be missed, either in the author or in the man. “It could be, in the grace of God,” he wrote at seventy-two, “I shall live to be eighty-nine, as did Hokusai”—and, we now may add, as did Robert Frost. Sandburg had his wish, and the country mourned for a beloved poet who had never...
(The entire section is 5368 words.)
SOURCE: Mieder, Wolfgang. “Behold the Proverbs of a People: A Florilegium of Proverbs in Carl Sandburg's Poem ‘Good Morning, America.’” Southern Folklore Quarterly 35 (1971): 160-68.
[In the following essay, Mieder studies Sandburg's use and manipulation of American proverbs in his poem “Good Morning, America.”]
There are basically only two ways for the scholar to achieve his task of collecting proverbs—either he undertakes field research with such modern aids as electronic recording devices to gather up the popular language, or as the Germans call it the expressions of the Volksmund, or he must rely on the written records of a certain age, extracting the proverbial lore that found its way into literature of various kinds. The investigation of the writings of past centuries for proverbs has led to striking cultural as well as philological results, and yet, as Archer Taylor repeatedly points out, “until now regrettably small numbers of scholars have given any attention to them (the proverbs in literature).”1 Some of the more important collections of proverbs from English writings stem from the medieval, a time known for its inter-European proverbial associations, and primarily from the sixteenth century, which has been coined the “golden age of the proverb.” Those times were of a highly didactic and folklike nature, and one would expect to find an abundance of...
(The entire section is 2302 words.)
SOURCE: Allen, Gay Wilson. “Carl Sandburg.” In Carl Sandburg, pp. 5-48. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
[In the following essay, Wilson details Sandburg's life and literary career, citing significant developments in his later poetry.]
Carl Sandburg never won the Nobel Prize, but some Americans thought that he should have, and when Hemingway received it in 1954 he told reporters that it should have gone to Sandburg. Later in the year at the National Book Awards program in New York when Harvey Breit, of the New York Times Book Review staff, asked Sandburg how he felt about Hemingway's friendly gesture, he replied: “Harvey Breit, I want to tell you that sometime thirty years from now when the Breit boys are sitting around, one boy will say, ‘Did Carl Sandburg ever win the Nobel Prize?’ and one Breit boy will say, ‘Ernest Hemingway gave it to him in 1954.’”
Whether or not Sandburg deserved the Nobel Prize, he was at least as well known and widely read in his own country as Hemingway, though perhaps not as famous abroad, for he had not outrun General Patton's tanks in the World War II invasion of Germany or led the vanguard in “liberating” Paris, to mention only two of Hemingway's fabulous adventures. Yet in his own way Sandburg was also newsworthy. No other American writer was at the same time so widely read and heard: hundreds of audiences had...
(The entire section is 12790 words.)
SOURCE: Crowder, Richard. “Sandburg's Chromatic Vision in Honey and Salt.” In The Vision of This Land: Studies of Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg, edited by John E. Hallwas and Dennis J. Reader, pp. 92-104. Macomb: Western Illinois University Press, 1976.
[In the following essay, Crowder investigates Sandburg's rich and figurative use of color in his 1963 collection, Honey and Salt.]
Caroline Spurgeon reminds us that the act of seeing involves all that man is. It is the means by which, for example, the poet observes and absorbs a great part of life, engaging both the mentality and the imagination in receiving sight impressions, then describing them and giving them significance. The poet as a whole person is involved.1
Not least in the seeing process is the reception of colors, to which some observers are patently more sensitive than others. Faber Birren remarks, as case in point, that psychologists frequently find older people more inclined to notice form than color.2 Birren is a well-known American consultant in color, author of numerous books on the subject with relation not only to personality but also to such topics as interior decoration, printing, packaging, sales, mental therapy, and painting. His clients have included many large businesses, and some twenty-five years ago he developed standards of color practice adopted by the...
(The entire section is 6860 words.)
SOURCE: Mayer, Charles W. “The People, Yes: Sandburg's Dreambook for Today.” In The Vision of This Land: Studies of Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg, edited by John E. Hallwas and Dennis J. Reader, pp. 82-91. Macomb: Western Illinois University Press, 1976.
[In the following essay, Mayer traces the “lyrical pessimism” of Sandburg's early poetry, finding a late response to it in The People, Yes, which presents Sandburg's theme of “the divinity of the people.”]
There were two poets in Carl Sandburg. One was the advocate of democracy, committed to the lusty, often brutalized life of the people; using the common idiom to celebrate the wonder and the worth of life, and himself at times nearly “daffy with life's razzle dazzle.”1 The other was the poet of flux and drift, dominated by thoughts of loss and death, uncertain of life's purpose, and yearning for some release from the lonely prison of the senses. Forty years ago a discerning Newton Arvin was perhaps the first to define this second tendency: “A troubled skepticism, an enervating indecisiveness, overlie much of what he has written: whenever the raw fact or the strong primitive sentiment is left behind, we are likely to find ourselves in a chartless prairie of bewilderment and doubt. …”2 A lyrical pessimism is expressed in all of Sandburg's works, beginning with Chicago...
(The entire section is 5618 words.)
SOURCE: Crowder, Richard H. “Carl Sandburg's Influence on Modern Poetry.” Western Illinois Regional Studies 1, no. 1 (spring 1978): 45-64.
[In the following essay, Crowder claims that Sandburg's impact on American poets and poetry is greater than most critics are likely to admit.]
In 1914 critical readers (as well as uncritical) found in Sandburg some disturbing departures from the poems they were accustomed to enjoy. Stephen Crane, it is true, had experimented, but he was dead. That eternal sophomore, Richard Hovey, had written innocuously of wanderers, lovers, and comrades, but he too was dead. James Whitcomb Riley had long before run out of steam with a few stilted sonnets commemorating his departed friends, and he too would be dead in two years. Lizette Woodworth Reese, Louise Imogen Guiney, Edith Matilda Thomas, Anna Hempstead Branch, Josephine Preston Peabody—all these three-named ladies and more like them had been providing devourers of verse with their fare: moods of gentility, second-hand emotions, sterile and hackneyed line structure and stanzaic patterns. Like the snows of yesteryear, where are they now? An exception was E. A. Robinson, a stickler for classic rhyme, rhythm, and stanza. He was an original with several published volumes which nobody was reading much except Teddy Roosevelt, for, in spite of their conventional appearance, they were out of the accepted rut. Robert Frost had...
(The entire section is 7039 words.)
SOURCE: Friberg, Ingegerd. “The Clash of American Dreams in Carl Sandburg's Poetry.” Moderna Sprak 74, no. 1 (1980): 3-20.
[In the following essay, Friberg probes Sandburg's poetry as it presents a tension between two ideals—America as a paradise and America as a land of progress—and as it promotes the possibilities of a socialist society in America.]
In The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal Leo Marx studies the two well-known American dreams: America as the Garden of Eden and America as the Land of Progress. He traces these dreams through a discussion of the beliefs of Primitivists, Progressivists, and representatives of the “Middle Landscape,” covering such fields as economy, philosophy, and literature. He makes clear how the two dreams gave rise to two ideals, developing out of the situation of the first settlers. They were seen as separate ideals at first but were then kept in a balance of harmony one with the other for some time. Finally, it was realized that they would have to clash, and when they did, a situation arose which engaged writers of many kinds.
In his lecture on the “Confrontation with the Machine in American Literature and Life,” presented at Helsinki to The Nordic Association for American Studies Conference of 1979, Leo Marx gave a preview of his forthcoming book Pastoralism Reconsidered, in which he will...
(The entire section is 7096 words.)
SOURCE: Reid, Robert L. “The Day Book Poems of Carl Sandburg.” The Old Northwest: A Journal of Regional Life and Letters 9, no. 3 (fall 1983): 205-18.
[In the following essay, Reid focuses on four largely unknown poems by Sandburg originally published in the Chicago newspaper The Day Book while Sandburg was a member of the staff.]
Early in 1914, Carl Sandburg, an aspiring poet unrecognized by the literary world, joined the staff of a small daily newspaper in Chicago. He worked as a reporter for The Day Book for three and a half years until the paper ceased publication in July 1917. This assignment represented the longest period of regular employment which Sandburg, thirty-six years old when he started, had experienced. Of greater significance, however, these Day Book years witnessed his emergence as a major American writer.
Described as an experiment in journalism by its editor, Negley Cochran, The Day Book began publication in September 1911. Printed in a six-by-nine-inch tabloid format, the newspaper was sold at newsstands in the loop and the near westside of Chicago. It was published in two editions every day except Sunday and sold for a penny a copy. In the colorful words of Ben Hecht, The Day Book had “a most unprofessional look and equally strange content. It was the size of a Pierre Marquette Railroad timetable, and you could almost...
(The entire section is 4772 words.)
SOURCE: Brumm, Anne-Marie. “The Cycle of Life: Motifs in the Chicago Poems of Carl Sandburg.” Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik: A Quarterly of Language, Literature, and Culture 31, no. 3 (1983): 237-55.
[In the following essay, Brumm enumerates leitmotifs—including the innocent child, victimized maiden, and death—in Sandburg's Chicago Poems.]
Full of ideals and dreams, Carl Sandburg went to “the big city,” Chicago, for the first time in 1896. He was then only eighteen and his meager money only permitted him to remain three days, yet it was the beginning of a marked change in the young poet. Again and again, “Chi” would lure him to return. Carl Sandburg's response to Chicago was an intense one—one that would influence his entire life. It was also to be an ambivalent one. He loved Chicago, walking its long streets, drinking in its strange sights and basking in its blistering noise. But he hated it too—its suffering poor, its exploitation and its misery! Ofttimes, he could not accept the city's brutal reality, so he romanticized its scenes or rejected them completely and vehemently. Yet this very rejection would be the energizing agent in his work. The big city was the primary factor in the stimulation and nourishment of Carl Sandburg's work.
Chicago was the inspiration of Carl Sandburg's first feeble attempts at poetry and later of his first volume...
(The entire section is 9930 words.)
SOURCE: Oktenberg, Adrian. “From the Bottom Up: Three Radicals of the Thirties.” In A Gift of Tongues: Critical Challenges in Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Marie Harris and Kathleen Aguero, pp. 83-111. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Oktenberg examines Sandburg's myth of “the People” and unfavorably compares the poet to Walt Whitman as an representative of America and democracy.]
CARL SANDBURG, ROUGHNECK SINGER
Carl Sandburg is almost unread today, when he is not a laughingstock, among those who still read poetry. The charges against him are severe, and of many of them his poetry stands convicted. Yet there are many other poets, poets who are read (or at least taught) and whose reputations are higher, who are equally guilty. During his lifetime, Sandburg's work was taken seriously by many whose business it is to take poetry seriously. And—what is not true of others—Sandburg was one of the most genuinely popular American poets of this century.
In some ways it is difficult to write about Sandburg without sounding an apologia. It may be true that his intellectual capacity was slight and his capacity for sentimentality great. His imagery is jejune, his philosophizing worse. His poetry is far too dependent on nouns and adjectives and not enough on verbs. It contains copious description and yet little...
(The entire section is 1562 words.)
SOURCE: Van Wienen, Mark. “Taming the Socialist: Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems and Its Critics.” American Literature 63, no. 1 (March 1991): 89-103.
[In the following essay, Van Wienen maintains that Sandburg was far more political in his early poetry than is generally acknowledged.]
Carl Sandburg's reputation as the adulatory biographer of Lincoln and as a folksy, silver-haired singer of ballads and reciter of poems has obscured the radically innovative and oppositional character of his earlier poetic work. Set in the context of Sandburg's socialist politics of the teens rather than the moderate populism of his later career, the early poems emerge as protests both against much of conventional American political life and against established literary practice. Most sharply confrontational is Chicago Poems, which appeared at a time when Sandburg was active both in socialist politics and in literary circles.1 These poems reveal that Sandburg was busy propagating American socialism not only in his work as an organizer and a newspaperman, but also in the supposedly apolitical realm of literature. Other materials, particularly reviews of Chicago Poems and correspondence between Sandburg, his publisher, and the critics, present another, less visible side to the relationship between politics and poetry: They show the power of literary and publishing establishments to suppress...
(The entire section is 5475 words.)
SOURCE: Epstein, Joseph. “The People's Poet.” Commentary 93, no. 5 (May 1992): 47-52.
[In the following essay, Epstein sees Sandburg as more an entertainer than a poet and chronicles his spectacular lifelong fame.]
The Poet is a heroic figure belonging to all ages; whom all ages possess, when once he is produced, whom the newest age as the oldest may produce—and will produce, always when Nature pleases. Let Nature send a Hero-soul; in no age is it other than possible that he may be shaped into a Poet.
Passages like my epigraph probably go a long way toward suggesting that Carlyle was more than a little nuts. Who, in our day, would search among poets for a hero? With only a few exceptions, poets in our time have found a home in the university, where they are rather dim figures, permitted to work at their craft, not so much an ornament to the culture as something closer to a parasite upon it, living from grant to grant, workshop to workshop, involved in an intense relationship with the Self, that all-consuming locust of our age, which chomps up all before it. Such, usually without rhyme and often without reason, has increasingly become the obscure habitat and vocation of the poet at the end of the 20th century.
To find an American poet who received public adulation worthy of the kind of...
(The entire section is 5554 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg. Virginia Quarterly Review 68, no. 3 (summer 1992): 102.
[In the following review of the reissued Chicago Poems, the unsigned critic draws attention to the work's ambivalent status near the end of the twentieth century.]
This reissue of Sandburg's first book of poems, originally published in 1914, includes the much-anthologized “Chicago” (which labeled the city as the “Hog Butcher for the World”) and “Fog” (which moved on famously feline paws). As John E. Hallwas points out in his evenhanded introduction, all of Sandburg's strengths and weaknesses are clearly displayed in this book, arguably the strongest one he ever wrote. Chicago Poems is particularly interesting to read in 1992, when free verse rather than rhymed and metered poems dominate the literary journals. Indeed, though these poems were once considered bold for their “powerful free verse,” many of them could appear in a contemporary poetry publication without drawing attention to themselves—though it is arguable whether this is a compliment or a condemnation.
(The entire section is 163 words.)
SOURCE: Beyers, Chris. “Carl Sandburg's Unnatural Relations.” Essays in Literature 22, no. 1 (spring 1995): 97-112.
[In the following essay, Beyers links Chicago Poems to poetic tradition, observing that in many cases Sandburg modernized older forms in his verse.]
Carl Sandburg, Bernard Duffey has remarked, “is something of an institution” (295). Indeed, by the time of his death, Sandburg had reached the level of cultural icon—so much so that a list of his activities and honors tells a story of American cultural history, 1940-1969. It's not just his two Pulitzer Prizes (one in 1940 for Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, the other in 1950 for Complete Poems) and numerous honorary degrees. There's a picture of his reading to Congress with Sam Rayburn and Richard Nixon looking on, and another of him looking on while Elizabeth Taylor reads what presumably is his contribution to the script of The Greatest Story Ever Told. He lectured throughout the Midwest while he was a young man, and on the radio when he got older; on TV, he read while Gene Kelly tap danced; Playboy paid him ＄3600 for six poems and a parable. Gold medals came from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Poetry Society of America, and the King of Sweden. After he moved to North Carolina, the state declared a Carl Sandburg Day; when he returned to Illinois, he was named Poet Laureate of...
(The entire section is 7850 words.)
SOURCE: “Sandburg's ‘They Will Say.’” The Explicator 59, no. 3 (2001): 134.
[In the following essay, an anonymous critic discusses the merits of Sandburg's poem “They Will Say.”]
Pity poor Carl Sandburg. Not only is he, at least in Chicago Poems, shamefully driven by ideology (Waggoner 452, 455), but he is guilty of “overly insistent tempos and rigid parallelisms,” “compulsive metrics and rhythms” (Pearce 270, 271), and simultaneously of lacking “meter and verse form, even regular rhythm” (Spiller 180). He “sling[s] a loose, prosy line” (Spayde 108), utters a “blowsy hurrah” (Perkins 42), and is “expostulatory” and “blustering” (Moore 92). Yet at the same time his work is mere “cataloguing” (Walker 126), “mainly a massing of direct details in the fashion of Dreiser” (Spiller 180), and is made up of “flat statements” (Moore 92). And lest we think that even as a “speech-maker” (Pearce 270) Sandburg would have to display some rhetorical skills, show some mastery of figures and schemes, we are told that his work is “emptily rhetorical” (270), that his early verse is “political preachment” and (at least in “I am the People, the Mob”) is no better than “socialist political oratory” (Waggoner 453, 454). From such criticism one gathers that Sandburg's poetry is crude and roughhewn, without subtlety and thoughtfulness. But Sandburg's...
(The entire section is 1460 words.)
Blankenship, Russell. “Carl Sandburg.” In American Literature as an Expression of the National Mind, pp. 605-13. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1931.
Remarks on Sandburg's life, his unconventional poetry and diction, and idiomatic vision of Chicago, finally labeling him “a true mystic of the modern age.”
Brooks, Gwendolyn. “Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967.” Chicago Tribune (1 January 1978): section 7, p. 1.
Offers a brief summary of Sandburg's poetic career in honor of the centennial of his birth.
Frank, Waldo. “Chicago.” In Our America, pp. 117-47. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919.
Mentions Sandburg as part of a survey of literary evocations of Chicago and the American Midwest.
Kramer, Dale. “For Sandburg, a Taste of Glory.” In Chicago Renaissance: The Literary Life in the Midwest 1900-1930, pp. 278-87. New York: Appleton-Century, 1966.
Recounts the origins of Sandburg's Chicago Poems.
Review of Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg. New York Times Book Review (11 May 1916): 242.
Admires the literary and social content of Sandburg's Chicago Poems, while generally disparaging its lack of traditional poetic form.
Shapiro, Karl. Review of...
(The entire section is 373 words.)