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Updated January 27, 2021

Carl Sandburg’s Poetry Themes

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Carl Sandburg’s Poetry Themes essay
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Carl Sandburg was an American author, poet, biographer, journalist, and a platform artist (Sandburg 48). He was well known for the images he presented throughout his work. His images captured the spirit and soul of nature and the people. It also contained many dark and heavy subjects as well. He displayed the darker side of life, but he also celebrated the reality of human nature by showing hope and pride. Although he had a variety of themes, one of the most recurring theme throughout the works of Sandburg’s are the everyday people and everyday life.

Throughout the arts that Sandburg has done, his poems were the most popular during his time. His poetry talked about the harsh realities of the urban life of immigrants, and touched the variety of the American life, mainly, the working class. His poems had a faith of hardship of the laborers and had constant sympathy for the poor. Throughout his work, his most popular view was of the countless images of struggle and had a message of faith in “the people” (Barnes 2256). And when Sandburg shows everyday people and everyday life, he presents them as everyday people who carry on the work of the community, and expresses their feelings through struggle. For example, “Cripple” is a thirteen line poem with a binary structure, which gets divided on the sixth line with the transition “I said to myself…”. The first five lines describes the victim in the slums slowly dying by the torture of death. The last seven lines of the poem shows

the poet’s preference for the life of the sunflower. The poem is built on with phrases and shows the cripple needs air while the sunflower is enjoying the rain and dew. The victim is “desperately gesturing” while the sunflower is peacefully watching stars. And the cripple’s loneliness is made more mournful by the sunflower’s companionship. The theme transpires in the poem as the unwholesomeness of people in the slum life. In the poem, the poet is explaining he would rather not be a man than to most suffer as the victim.

Not only that, but in the poem “Lost”, he portrayed loneliness of the people. And in “The Harbor”, he showed the contrast between the imprisonment of women in the slums, and the potential for freedom in nature (Sandburg 48). “The Shovel Man” and “Fish Crier” are two poems of Sandburg’s that describes the American Life (Hoffman 446). But out all, the two most popular and commonly known poems that he displayed his theme were “Chicago” and “The people, Yes”.

Carl first appeared in “The Little Review” where “Chicago” was published. It had a considerable and variety of adventure in it, and showed person-to-person relationship, along with relating it to the Midwest and produced as an individual voice (Sandburg 48). Sandburg realized that for many in the early twentieth century, the city was a place of hope and despair, which was shown throughout this poem, along with Sandburg’s very own audacious love for its imperativeness and the unconquerable will of its people as well. In the first short section of Sandburg’s poem, he lists the well-known industries of the cities and describes how an individual possesses similar characteristics may look or behave, by creating an image of a strong working-class man. Sandburg presents the city as a bad-boy and describes the city as an energetic working class men full of machismo. The narrator (role of the parent) has

complaints of his city-child being “brutal”, “cooked”, and “wicked”. And in the early twentieth century of Chicago, complains were actually common. During that time, the social reformers, temperance groups, and anti-urban crusaders fought force of industrialization and redevelopment as well. But later in the poem, Sandburg’s narrator refuses to declare his city-child. Though the narrator’s aggressiveness yet forgiving attitude is what gives the poem the energy and it’s image of traits of the hardworking man.

Sandburg describes the city as the city-hyper masculine, arrogant spirit of the city, saying it as “a bold slugger”; or “an ignorant fighter who has never lost a battle”. But to conclude, Chicago is portrayed less a city but rather more a testosterone-laden, eighteen-year-old who lives absolutely on intuition. So by comparing poverty and corruption with the “bragging and laughing” behavior of the city, Sandburg knowingly brings to the force the impact of a capitalist economy on the common laborers. While farmers and rural poor flocked to Chicago and other enormous large cities are looking for better employments and openings, they regularly wound up severed and more regrettable of low-wage occupation, and their doubtful desires. So in all, “Chicago” shows these natural feelings that incorporate the trust and goodwill that numerous people have toward each other (“An Overview of Chicago”).

“The People, Yes” was also one of Sandburg’s well known free-verse poems, which reflected and showed hope for the common man. It speaks clarity and shows the energy of the peoples small town and ghettos. It provides strength and their will to survive, along with showing the broken parts of the industrial life. He showed enthusiasm for “the people” and endlessly discussed their resilience, their self-contradictory, wisdom, pliability and etc. He touches many emotions and fulfilments of human life. He shows the celebration of human survival and describes the celebration the variety when reading his inclusiveness and liberality. The celebration of life that’s displayed in his work is the darker side of life. The doubts, worries, fears, despairs are often overlooked. These are the emotions that he presented throughout his work which shows his ability throughout this poem (Hoffman 466).

Sandburg creates a formal tension between affirmation and refusal, life and death, development and rot, dreams and the truth of broken dreams. It’s a picture of democracy in 1936, when wherever he discovered a liar, cheats, fixer, panderers, and criminal-entrepreneurs. Not only that, but legislative issues were abnormal, industry ruthless and hardhearted, labor bosses self-serving, journalists critical without goals, judges and legal counselors on the take. Through everything runs the twin spectors of hunger and heartbreak. Unemployment lines, torn promises, and shattered dreams are the legacy of a country. Against this tale of injustice and hardship the poet declares his truth in the pliable life of common people, despite the fact that his decision “Men will yet win” (p. 617) isn’t exactly persuading.

The available resources for making a superior world are missing, and triumph over evil is as far away as ever toward the end. The poem would offer little aspiration to the reformers with their eye on the realities of the experience. As well as death becomes a pastor of equity; Death in war is one sort of termination that compromises instead of feeds the life of the general population. Although war isn’t the main theme of this poem, Sandburg believes that people’s wellbeing relies upon the normal flow between life and death, on a natural rise and fall of people from the extraordinary purifying poll of the people (“The People, Yes: Sandburg’s Dreambook for Today”).

In conclusion, Sandburg enlarged possibilities of the subjects he discussed as the poet of his century. His vision of life were inclusive of defeat, doubt, and despair. He always made the art in poetry by the materials and subjects he brought in the characteristics of the people he displayed. He presented many themes throughout his work, but one of the many themes displayed throughout all his poems were everyday people and everyday life. The images he brought to his work showed his form and individual style as seeming artless, but has strength and hope for the people and the lifestyle they live by (Hoffman 466).

And although he had many poems presenting those themes, the most commonly known poems of Sandburg’s that presented everyday people and life were “Chicago” and “The People, Yes”. Both brought the art in his work, because he glorified and repeated details from daily life (Barnes 2256). He showed the images of struggle of the working class, and displayed the message of hope and faith for “the people”, which is why his work is still remembered and admired by many till this day.

Carl Sandburg’s Poetry Themes essay

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Carl Sandburg’s Poetry Themes. (2021, Jan 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/carl-sandburgs-poetry-themes/

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