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Four P oems by Carl Sandburg
Cornhuskers: Complete Text

Carl Sandburg's Home

Carl August Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer and folklorist. He was born in Galesburg, Illinois of Swedish parents and died at his home, named Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg "indubitably an American in every pulse-beat." He was a successful journalist, poet, historian, biographer, and autobiographer. During the course of his career, Sandburg won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: The War Years) and one for his collection The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg.

During the Spanish-American War, Sandburg enlisted in the 6th Illinois Infantry, and he participated in the landing at Guánica on July 25, 1898 during the invasion of Puerto Rico. Following a brief (two-week) career as a student at West Point, Sandburg chose to attend Lombard College in Galesburg. He left college without a degree in 1902.

Sandburg lived for a brief period in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which he became a member of the Social Democratic Party and took a strong interest in the socialist community. He worked as a secretary to Mayor Emil Seidel, the first socialist mayor in the United States.

Sandburg met Lilian Steichen, sister of the famed photographer, Edward Steichen, at the Social Democratic Headquarters. Lilian (nicknamed "Paus'l" by her mother and "Paula" by Carl) and Carl were married in 1908; they would go on to have three daughters.

Sandburg moved to Harbert, Michigan. From 1912 to 1928 he lived in Chicago, nearby Evanston and Elmhurst. During this time he began work on his series of biographies on Abraham Lincoln, which would eventually earn him his Pulitzer Prize in history (for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 1940).

In 1945, the Sandburg family moved from the Midwest, where they'd spent most of their lives, to the Connemara estate, in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Connemara was ideal for the family, as it gave Mr. Sandburg an entire mountain top to roam and enough solitude for him to write. It also provided Mrs. Sandburg over 30 acres of pasture to raise and graze her prize-winning dairy goats.

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Four Poems:

Happiness

I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
            me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
            thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
            I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
            the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
            their women and children and a keg of beer and an
            accordion.

 

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?

 

Cool Tombs

When Abraham Lincoln was shoveled into the tombs he forgot
the copperheads and the assassin . . . in the dust, in the
cool tombs.

And Ulysses Grant lost all thought of con men and Wall Street,
cash and collateral turned ashes . . . in the dust, in the
cool tombs.

Pocahontas' body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw in
November or a pawpaw in May, did she wonder? does she
remember? . . . in the dust, in the cool tombs?

Take any streetful of people buying clothes and groceries,
cheering a hero or throwing confetti and blowing tin
horns . . . tell me if the lovers are losers . . . tell me if any
get more than the lovers . . . in the dust . . . in the cool
tombs.

 

Planked Whitefish

("I'm agoing to live anyhow until I die."-Modem Ragtime Song)

Over an order of planked whitefish at a downtown club,
Horace Wild, the demon driver who hurled the first aeroplane
            that ever crossed the air over Chicago,
Told Charley Cutler, the famous rassler who never touches
            booze,
And Carl Sandburg, the distinguished poet now out of jail,
He saw near Ypres a Canadian soldier fastened on a barn door
            with bayonets pinning the hands and feet
And the arms and ankles arranged like Jesus at Golgotha 2,000
            years before
Only in northern France he saw
The genital organ of the victim amputated and placed between
            the lips of the dead man's mouth,
And Horace Wild, eating whitefish, looked us straight in the
            eyes,
And piled up circumstantial detail of what he saw one night
            running a truck pulling ambulances out of the mud near
Ypres in November, 1915:
A box car next to a field hospital operating room. . . filled
            with sawed-off arms and legs. . .
Faces in the gray and the dark on the mud flats, white faces
            gibbering and loose convulsive arms making useless
            gestures,
And Horace Wild, the demon driver who loves fighting and can
            whip his weight in wildcats,
Pointed at a blue button in the lapel of his coat, "P-e-a-c-e"
            spelled in white letters, and he blurted:
"I don't care who the hell calls me a pacifist. 1 don't care who
            the hell calls me yellow; 1 say war is the game of a lot of
God-damned fools."

 

 

 

 

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    [Our biography was extracted and edited from wikipedia.org]      
 
Last Updated: Sat, October 7, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.