Carl Sandburg: Contribution to American Literature

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      Best known of the “Prairie Poets”, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), became more identified with the folk idiom than with the formal language. Born at Galesburg, in Illinois, he was the son of the illiterate Swedish immigrants. His father was, at the time of poet’s birth, was a railroad gang blacksmith. So his sympathies lie with labor class and that was not only caused by his origin. Abruptly he left school at the age of thirteen and traveled to the west, taking a variety of odd jobs. Once he worked as a newspaper seller in Chicago. In 1898, he enlisted in the army to go to Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. In 1902, he gave up his army service, returned to his Lambard College in Galesburg, and completed his graduate degree. As a reporter to a local newspaper, he wandered from place to place.

      Sandburg became a secretary to a socialist mayor, and returned to Chicago again in 1913. It is difficult to write about Carl Sandburg as it is difficult to paint the Grand Cannon on a small piece of canvas. Being a poet, historian, biographer, novelist, musician, word-smith, he was all of these and little more. His poetic career began with this first publication of poems Reckless Ecstasy (1904). In 1916, he came out with Chicago Poems, a volume of free verse on twentieth-century urban themes. In 1918, he published Cam Huskers (1918), Smoke and Steel (1920) and Slabs of Sunburned West (1922) and Good Morning, America (1928). It is one of the American classics of the 20th century. To many, Sandburg was a latter-day Walt Whitman, writing expansive, evocative urban and patriotic poems and simple, childlike rhymes and ballads. Carl Sandburg reworked of folk songs and idioms in the American Songbaga (1927) and The People, Yes (1936). In 1920, he began his lecture tours. He traveled about the acts of reciting and recording his poetry, in a lilting, mellifluously toned voice that was a kind of singing. At heart, he was totally unassuming, notwithstanding his national fame. What he wanted from life, he once said, was “to be out of jail... to eat get what I write printed, (and) to sing every day”. A fine example of his themes and his Whitmanesque style is the poem “Chicago” (1914): “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” His response to America was not uncritical as Carl Sandburg is the first poet associated with the Chicago Renaissance. In addition to his poems, Sandburg is widely known for his children’s stories, the most famous of which are the Rootabaga Stories (1922). Rootabaga Pigeons (1923), and Potato Face (1930), and a novel Remembrance Rock (1948) and an autobiography, Always the Young Strangers (1952). Complete Poems (1950) got punished and brought him Pulitzer Prize.

      His later verse reveals a darker side of Sandburg poetic vision, tempered by the experience of the Great Depression of 1932. Sandburg always kept his optimism about the enduring qualities of the ordinary working people. In addition to his unique poetry, he also known for his two part biography of Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (2 Vols) and Abraham Lincoln: War Years (4 Vols).

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