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Carl Sandburg, Yes Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Carl Sandburg, Yes was written specifically for young readers, but, on the whole, Rogers does not condescend to his juvenile audience. In fact, the book’s predominantly colloquial language—of which Sandburg would no doubt have approved—is liberally spiced with a refreshingly rich and challenging vocabulary. Like most books intended for a juvenile audience, however, this biography is characterized by the simple presentation of the facts together with clear explications, not by depth or sophistication of analysis.

The Sandburg that emerges from Rogers’ biography is a man of simple needs and tastes. The author claims that Sandburg favored “workaday” language to florid rhetoric. He also consistently supported causes of the Left while being undogmatic enough to have voted (however regretfully) for Herbert Hoover in his first, and successful, bid for the presidency. Rogers also portrays him as totally committed to the idea that literature need not be the province of the intellectual elite or the highbrow alone.

Yet Rogers avoids the still-controversial question of whether, nice and noble sentiments aside, Sandburg’s poetry really stands up as poetry. Omitting a discussion of such a basic issue can be justified in the context of a biography, however, particularly one whose concerns more closely mirror social history, not aesthetics. Even so, the emphasis in Carl Sandburg, Yes is very much on its subject’s literary output. Rogers is well aware of the fact that Sandburg’s journalism, politicking, public speaking, and dabblings in folklore are interesting less in their own right than for the light that they might shed on his poetry, prose, and historiography—which, after all, established Sandburg’s international reputation.

Thinking perhaps of an ancient Persian proverb on the same subject, Sandburg once wrote that “Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and bis-cuits.” By this, Rogers plausibly asserts, he meant that poetry springs from the wedding of the ineffable or mysterious with the run-of-the-mill or commonplace. Such a principle may have been behind Sandburg’s lifelong fascination with Abraham Lincoln, who became the subject of several of his biographies. Lincoln, rail-splitter from the backwoods of Illinois and the sixteenth president of the United States, also combined commonsense values with...

(The entire section is 567 words.)