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||Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)|
American poet, historian, novelist and folklorist, "the singing bard". Carl Sandburg gave voice to the people of the Midwestern. He was a central figure in the Chicago Renaissance and he played a significant role in the development in poetry that took place during the first two decades of the 20th century. His emphasis on the tradition of American experience associate him with Hart Crane and Robinson Jeffers.
these people of the air,
Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of poor Swedish immigrant parents. His father was August Sandburg, a blacksmith and railroad worker, who had changed his name from Johnson. His mother was the former Clara Anderson. Sandburg was educated at public school until he was thirteen, and he then worked in odd jobs in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado. In 1898 he returned to his home town for a short time with the trade of house-painter.
One of Sandburg's favorite stories was that he was rejected by West Point because he failed the test in arithmetic and grammar. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Sandburg enlisted in the 6th Infantry, but saw no combat. Upon his return he entered Lombard college in Galesburg, studying the Classics. During these years he worked as a janitor and as a "call man" on the Galesburg fire department. Encouraged by professor Philip Green Wright, Sandburg started to write poetry. His first book, In Reckless Ecstasy, was printed privately in 1904.
Just short of receiving his degree in 1902, Sandburg moved to
Wisconsin. He held various jobs, working as traveler for a stereoptican
slides firm, labor organizer for the Wisconsin Social-Democrats, and as
a journalist on the Milwaukee Leader.
He also was involved in the presidential campaign of Eugene V. Debs. Sandburg rode along Debs's train, The Red Special.
1908 Sandburg married Lillian Steichen, a fellow socialist and a
schoolteacher. Her brother was the noted photographer Edward Steichen,
whose biography Sandburg was to write. At the time they first met,
Sandburg had not been a member of a socialist organization, but Lillian
had attended socialist meetings and encouraged him in his work as an
organizer. "This is an age of action
– not of dreaming or contemplation or gratulation," she wrote in one of
her letters. (see The
Poet and Dream Girl: The Love
Letters of Lilian Steichen & Carl Sandburg, edited by Margaret Sandburg, 1987)
From 1910 to 1912 Sandburg was secretary to the Socialist mayor of
Milwaukee. Like Theodore Dreiser and a number of other writers and
artists, Sandburg was considered a security risk by J. Edgar Hoover and
F.B.I. kept a dossier on him. A turning point in Sandburg's life came in 1910 –
he bought a guitar, and then learned to play it. Eleven years later he
wrote to a friend: "I am reading poems and singing Casey Jones,
Steamboat Bill, and medleys. . . . This whole thing is only in its
beginnings, America knowing it songs." ('Introduction to the 1990 Edition' by Garrison Keillor, The American Songbag by Carl Sandburg, originally published in 1927)
"I'm an idealist. I don't know where I'm going but I'm on the way."
In 1913 Sandburg moved with his family to a suburb of Chicago.
He was employed as an editor of a
business magazine, and published articles in the International
Socialist Review. His poems started to appear in Harriet Monroe's
(1860-1936) magazine Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. The Levinson
Prize, awarded by Poetry in 1914, established Sandburg as an
important new figure in the literary scene.
While in Sweden in 1918, Sandburg met a cousin named Erik Carlson and received from King Gustav VI a special medal for his achievements. Upon his return he was questioned by Federal authorities, who accused him of supporting the Bolsheviks in Russia. However, although Sandburg shared the dream of workers paradise where all people were equal with such writers as Jack London, Upton Sinclair and John Reed, he was not a political thinker. Sandburg did not like being labelled as a socialist for he did not accept all socialist ideas. "What kind of a socialist?" he would ask.
Sandburg's first major collection of poems, Chicago Poems,
came out in 1916. It presented the poet as a loud-voiced, proud
proletarian, full of joy of life. The book included the famous
'Chicago' and 'Fog.' "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.../"
(from 'Chicago') Sandburg was too old to serve in the army
during World War I, but he traveled to Stockholm to serve as a foreign
correspondent for the Newspaper Enterprise Association. In Cornhuskers
(1918) Sandburg documented his experiences. Upon his return, in
1919, he joined the staff of the Chicago Daily News for
"Carl Sandburg was never a hair-trigger reporter," recalled
his colleague Harry Hansen, "he could never get into action quickly and
weave a fanciful story as Ben Hecht, seated only at the adjoining desk,
was wont to do; his work required meditation and leisure, and often he
toiled far into the night and Henry Smith would find his neatly
typewritten manuscript on his desk when he arrived early the next
morning." (Carl Sandburg Home by Paula Steichen, 1983, p. 83) In his articles Sandburg dealt with, among others, garment trades. In 1919 appeared another series of articles in The Chicago Race Riots. Sandburg's free verse, reflecting industrial America, gained wide popularity
during the Depression years, although his vernacular language at
first shocked readers.
Chicago Poems, Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1920) are considered among Sandburg's best collections. Rootabaga Stories (1922) featured the imaginary country of Rootabaga, on the other side of Balloon Picker's country. The railway tracks run zigzag there; it is the work of the zizzies, a species of bug, who have twisted all the rails. Magic is a normal part of life, although the country has clearly midwestern milieu of cornfields and prairies. Its has been said, that this work marked the emergece of genuinely American fairy tales.
In the 1930s Sandburg became active in the Socialist movement. Interested in American folksongs, he published in 1927 a collection in The American Songbag and later New American Songbag (1950). These songs Sandburg had heard from railroad men, cowboys, lumberjack, hobos, convicts and workers on farm and in factory. Outside industrial cities was the prairie, of which he wrote: "I was born on the prairie, and the milk of its wheat, the red of its clover, the eyes of its women, gave me a song, a slogan."
Between the wars Sandburg travelled widely as a poetry-reciter, accompanying himself on a guitar, wearing a blue working man's shirt and his white hair rumpled. On the lecture tours, his most prominent competitor was Robert Frost, four years older than Sandburg. They met in 1917, Sandburg called him "the strongest, loneliest, friendliest personality among the poets today." The good-natured Sandburg remained his friend for nearly fifty years, in spite of Frost's constant attacks on his person and the qualtity of his literary production. When Sandburg performed at Michigan, Frost said: "His mandolin pleased some people, his poetry a very few and his infantile talk none."
The People, Yes (1936) is probably Sandburg's most popular single book. From his very first volumes Sandburg recorded the speech of Midwesterners, spoken by the working class of the industrial cities; this became a clear feature of his poetry. It also showed the author's epigrammatic skills. Sandburg was often called the successor to Walt Whitman; the both writers were fascinated by the rhythms of the urban life and admired common laborers, but they also had a kind of shamanistic streak in their expression.
Sandburg's life of Lincoln was published in six volumes (1926-1939) and although historians have criticized its mistakes, it was praised for its style and readability. Edmund Wilson's wisecrack in Patriotic Gore (1962) is perhaps the most fierce attack on the work: "The cruellest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg." Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939, 4 vols.) won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for history. It traced Lincoln's career from the time of his departure for the White House, to May 4, 1865. Abe Lincoln Grows Up (1928) was written for young readers, and was drawn from The Prairie (1926). Sandburg's autobiographical works include Always the Young Strangers (1953) and Ever the Winds of Change (1983).
Be sea ready
Be sky ready
In 1928 Sandburg moved to Harbert, Michigan, and in 1943,
milder climate, the family moved again, this time to Connemara, a farm
in Flat Rock, North Carolina. The Greek Revival-style house, which
remained his home forthe rest of his life, had been built by C.G.
Memminger, one of South's great attorneys and advocates of equal
education, in 1838-1839.
During World War II Sandburg wrote a folksy syndicated
newspaper column for the Chicago Times.
From 1945 he lived as a writer and farmer, breeding goats and combining
poetry reading with folk singing. In 1960, Sandburg earned $125,000 for
working as a creative consultant on a Hollywood film, The Greatest
Story Ever Told.
Its production was postponed in 1961. "This picture will be made,"
Sandburg declared before returning to Flat Rock, "and it will be a
great all-time picture." Eventually it was released in 1965, directed
by George Stevens and starring Max von Sydow.
Sandburg's surprising sojourn was not his first experience
with Hollywood: when he was a motion-picture critic for the Chicago
he had done interviews with stars of the silent film. And D.W. Griffith
had planned to produce a movie about Lincoln based on Sandburg's books,
but engaged Stephen Vincent Benét to write the screenplay.
At the age of sixty-five, Sandburg began his first and only novel, Remembrance Rock, an epic saga of America, which was published in 1948. Sandburg died on July 22, in 1967, at the age of 89. He once said: "It could be, in the grace of God, I shall live to be eighty-nine, as did Hokusai, and speaking my farewell to earthly scenes, I might paraphrase: 'If God had let me live five years longer I should have been a writer.'"
For further reading: Carl Sandburg: a Study of Personality and Background by Karl W. Detzer (1941); Carl Sandburg by Harry L. Golden (1961); Carl Sandburg by Richard Crowder (1964); Sandburg: Photographer's View by E. Streicher (1966); Carl Sandburg: Lincoln of Our Literature by North Callahan (1970); Carl Sandburg by G.W. Allen (1972); Carl Sandburg: His Life and Works by North Callahan (1987); Carl Sandburg: A Reference Guide, edited by D. Salwak (1988); Carl Sandburg by P. Niven (1991); The Other Carl Sandburg by P.R. Yannella (1996); Carl Sandburg: A Biography by Penelope Niven (2000); The Carl Sandburg Home: Connemara by Galen Reuther (2006); Carl Sandburg's America: A Study of His Works, His Politics, and His New Imagination by Evert Villarreal (2015). See also: Sherwood Anderson. Sandburg's influence in Finland: the literary group Kiila. Sandburgilta on suomennettu mm. valikoima Runoja (1956) sekä Elmer Diktoniuksen ruotsiksi kääntämänä Dikter i urval (1934).