Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg lived from 1878 to 1967, so he comes into recent times. He was the son of an immigrant Swedish blacksmith in Illinois. He was an active populist and socialist. He was a journalist and forfigure in the Chicago renaissance. Another famous populist is Huey P Long. The populist associate themselves with the masses. They talk about the needs of the people. They believe that the country is not just here for the wealthy, it is here for everybody. During the depression this struck a chord since 25%-35% of Americans were without a job. Everyone else was struggling along. Populists were seen as rabble-rousers who wanted to support the common man against corporate interest, and rich people.

"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.

Like the poem "Grass," this poem considers the peace that death brings.  Whenever we die, the passions that ruled our lives die with us.  The theme is that death is not a horror, but a rest.  English 202 is a horror.


He writes about his home town of Chicago. The long lines are reminiscent of Whitman. He celebrates the things that are not normally celebrated in poetry. The first line in Chicago is about killing pigs. We have the pig-butchers. His city is a city of the blue collar, a city that celebrates being blue collar.  Some of that still exists in the USA.  After Jesse "the Body" Ventura was elected governor of Minnisota in 1998, bumper stickers around the state proclaimed, "My governor can pile drive your governor."  Whitman & Sandburg would be proud.

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
This is the nickname for Chicago; he celebrates that it is lower class. It is not like Boston, thinking it is better than everyone. It is the city that works. This is the crossroads of the great lakes and the railroads. In the time of Lincoln this was a little village, that grew up overnight. It burned in the great fire and they rebuilt it with more of a plan, and included some of the great skyscrapers. He goes on..
  This is like New Orleans, the farm boys go to be lures by wicked women. The mob, even at this early time, there is crime and corruption. The city is known for this. Al Capone came from Chicago. You see the brutality and harsh nature, nevertheless he is celebrating it. Here is the brawler, the city that gets great things done, even if people get hurt along the way.
Building, breathing, rebuilding

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs
Chicago is a young city. A fresh new frontier in the great lakes. This was where people were attracted from the farms around. The urban movement and immigration was going on at the time. Where other people play with freight trains, Chicago plays with real chains. It is transportation crossroads, meat is brought to be slaughtered. It is a trade and industrial center.


a brief Poem.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
When you say something is something else in poetry it is called a metaphor. The fog is a cat. He is comparing the for to the cat, saying that it slips in quietly, like the fog.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on
Again, this is like the cat. The cat comes in, stares at you for a little while, then leaves. So it with the fog. There is controlling metaphor that the for is a cat, although he never says it is.


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo
Shovel them under and let me work--
                    I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
Pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
2 years, 10 years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
                    What place is this?
                    Where are we now?
                    I am the grass.
                    Let me work.

This is also similar to Whitman, whose grass was recycling us. Many of our rituals surrounding death tend to deny this of delay it, such as embalming. In reality, nature tries to recycle us. In some cultures there is more comfort with this. The Himalayas have the sky burials, where they allow the vultures to eat you. He says that the grass recycles and heals us.

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo
Shovel them under and let me work
I am the grass, I cover all.
Waterloo is where Napoleon met his great defeat. It has been almost 200 years
And Pile them high at Gettysburg.
This is from the civil war, and is also where his hero, Abraham Lincoln spoke in the Gettysburg Address.  At the time, bodies were still being interred & the scars of battle were quite visible. By 1918, it is grown over with grass.  Now developers are trying to build a mall there.
Pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
This is from W.W.I. These have just happened. What has happened yesterday will eventually be in our minds as things that happened hundreds of years ago.  This is a very American view of history.  Some cultures see things that happened hundreds of years ago as things that happened yesterday.  They nurse wounds centuries old.  When some of those same people immigrated to America, they were quickly told to leave that stuff in the old country.
2 years, 10 years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass
Let me work.
The battle scars of war will be healed over and people will not remember will took place here. He is not saying that the events have no meaning, but that the emotional scars that come with death will be healed by time.