Carl Sandburg

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How can one interpret the beginning of Carl Sandburg's poem?

They have yarns

Of a skyscraper so tall they had to put hinges

On the two top stories so to let the moon go by...

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Carl Sandburg (1878 - 1967) lived and wrote during the Gilded Age, a period of significant economic growth due to industrialization, as well as of corruption, that spanned between the 1870s to the early 1900s. Hence, industrialization significantly influenced Sandburg. Yet, unlike many, he used his poetry to find and capture the beauty of industrialization rather than just the corruption.

As he saw it, industrialization reflected America's growth. He was the son of uneducated parents who emigrated from Sweden to America. His father could not write; his mother could read in Swedish but not write. Sandburg himself remained uneducated until a fellow soldier serving with him in the Spanish-American War influenced him to enroll in Lombard College of Galesburg Illinois, after the war. From there, he began a journey that led him to become one of the most influential writers and speakers of his time. At one point, when noting the fact that neither of his parents could write but he himself had progressed enough in his career to write about Abraham Lincoln, he states, "I guess that somewhere along in this you'll find a story of America." The story of America is precisely what we find in many of his poems; it's a story of progress.

We see a story of progress in his poem beginning with the lines, "They have yarns / Of a skyscraper so tall they had to put hinges / On the two top stories so to let the moon go by." Here, the term yarns can be translated to mean stories. He is beginning his poem with a story of architects having built a skyscraper so tall that the moon would crash right into it along its orbit if the architects had not put hinges on the top two floors so that they could open up to let the moon pass through the building, similarly to a drawbridge. The discovery of using steel frames and reinforced concrete to make walls taller enabled architects to design skyscrapers. Hence, the story of designing skyscrapers fits his American story of progress, just like his own story of education fits the story of American progress. His poem continues to speak of gigantic crops, of improved pancakes, of a man riding a cyclone like a bull, and many others. Each reference to a tale is meant to show how much society has progressed.

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