Poems of Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967

We compiled a brief biography of Carl Sandburg for you. Click here to read it. Purchase AO's Volume 6 poetry collection which includes Frost, Sandburg, and our Year 6 anthology of favorites in paperback or Kindle ($amzn) (K)
Be sure to look up Sandburg's poem "Arithmetic;" it's not public domain, so it is not included here, but you may find it elsewhere.

01. Jazz Fantasia
02. Under a Telephone Pole
03. Fog
04. Flux
05. Monotone
06. Back Yard
07. Child Moon
08. Docks
09. Lost
10. Margaret
11. Window
12. Young Sea
13. Baby Face
14. Goldwing Moth
15. Prayers of Steel
16. Improved Farmland
17. Primer Lesson
18. Baby Toes
19. Basket
20. Five Cent Balloons
21. Good Night
22. Harvest Sunset
23. Hats
24. Languages
25. Manual System
26. People Who Must
27. Potomac Town in February
28. Sea-Wash
29. Summer Stars
30. Chicago

01. Jazz Fantasia

Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes,
Sob on the long cool winding saxophones.
Go to it, O jazzmen.

Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy tin pans,
Let your trombones ooze,
And go hushahusha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.

Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome tree-tops,
Moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible,
Cry like a racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop,
Bang-bang! you jazzmen,
Bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns, tin cans--
Make two people fight on the top of a stairway
And scratch each other's eyes in a clinch tumbling down the stairs.

Can the rough stuff . . .
Now a Mississippi steamboat pushes up the night river
With a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo . . .
And the green lanterns calling to the high soft stars . . .
A red moon rides on the humps of the low river hills . . .
Go to it, O jazzmen.

02. Under a Telephone Pole

I am a copper wire slung in the air,
Slim against the sun I make not even a clear line of shadow.

Night and day I keep singing -- humming and thrumming:
It is love and war and money; it is the fighting and the tears, the work and want,
Death and laughter of men and women passing through me, carrier of your speech,
In the rain and the wet dripping, in the dawn and the shine drying,

A copper wire.

03. Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

04. Flux

Sand of the sea runs red
Where the sunset reaches and quivers.
Sand of the sea runs yellow
Where the moon slants and wavers.

05. Monotone

The monotone of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of the long multitudinous rain.

The sun on the hills is beautiful,
Or a captured sunset sea-flung,
Bannered with fire and gold.

A face I know is beautiful--
With fire and gold of sky and sea,
And the peace of long warm rain.

06. Back Yard

Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.

An Italian boy is sending songs to you tonight from an accordion.

A Polish boy is out with his best girl;
They marry next month;
tonight they are throwing you kisses.

An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen
That sits in a cherry tree in his back yard.

The clocks say I must go--
I stay here sitting on the back porch
drinking white thoughts you rain down.

Shine on, O moon,
Shake out more and more silver changes.

07. Child Moon

The child's wonder
At the old moon
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, "See the moon!"
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.

08. Docks

Strolling along
By the teeming docks,
I watch the ships put out.
Black ships that heave and lunge
And move like mastodons
Arising from lethargic sleep.

The fathomed harbor
Calls them not nor dares
Them to a strain of action,
But outward, on and outward,
Sounding low-reverberating calls,
Shaggy in the half-lit distance,
They pass the pointed headland,
View the wide, far-lifting wilderness
And leap with cumulative speed
To test the challenge of the sea.

Doggedly onward plunging,
Into salt and mist and foam and sun.

09. Lost

Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor's breast
And the harbor's eyes.

10. Margaret

Many birds and the beating of wings
Make a flinging reckless hum
In the early morning at the rocks
Above the blue pool
Where the gray shadows swim lazy.

In your blue eyes, O reckless child,
I saw today many little wild wishes,
Eager as the great morning.

11. Window

Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light.

12. Young Sea

The sea is never still.
It pounds on the shore
Restless as a young heart,

The sea speaks
And only the stormy hearts
Know what it says:
It is the face
of a rough mother speaking.

The sea is young.
One storm cleans all the hoar
And loosens the age of it.
I hear it laughing, reckless.

They love the sea,
Men who ride on it
And know they will die
Under the salt of it

Let only the young come,
Says the sea.

Let them kiss my face
And hear me.
I am the last word
And I tell
Where storms and stars come from.

13. Baby Face

White moon comes in on a baby face.
The shafts across her bed are flimmering.

Out on the land White Moon shines,
Shines and glimmers against gnarled shadows,
All silver to slow twisted shadows
Falling across the long road that runs from the house.

Keep a little of your beauty
And some of your flimmering silver
For her by the window to-night
Where you come in, White Moon.

14. Goldwing Moth

A goldwing moth is between the scissors and the ink bottle on the desk
Last night it flew hundreds of circles around a glass bulb and a flame wire.
The wings are a soft gold; it is the gold of illuminated initials in manuscripts of the medieval monks.

15. Prayers of Steel

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper
through blue nights into white stars.

16. Improved Farmland

Tall timber stood here once, here on a corn belt farm along the Monon.
Here the roots of a half mile of trees dug their runners deep in the loam for a grip and a hold against wind storms.
Then the axmen came and the chips flew to the zing of steel and handle the lank railsplitters cut the big ones first, the beeches and the oaks, then the brush.
Dynamite, wagons and horses took the stumps--the plows sunk their teeth in--now it is first class corn land--improved property--and the hogs grunt over the fodder crops.
It would come hard now for this half mile of improved farm land along the Monon corn belt, on a piece of Grand Prairie, to remember once it had a great singing family of trees.

17. Primer Lesson

Look out how you use proud words.
When you let proud words go
It is not easy to call them back.
They wear long boots, hard boots;
They walk off proud;
They can't hear you calling--
Look out how you use proud words.

18. Baby Toes

There is a blue star, Janet,
Fifteen years' ride from us,
If we ride a hundred miles an hour.

There is a white star, Janet,
Forty years' ride from us,
If we ride a hundred miles an hour.

Shall we ride
To the blue star
Or the white star?

19. Basket

Speak, sir, and be wise.
Speak choosing your words, sir,
like an old woman over a bushel of apples.

20. Five Cent Balloons

Pietro has twenty red and blue balloons on a string.
They flutter and dance pulling Pietro's arm.
A nickel apiece is what they sell for.

Wishing children tag Pietro's heels.
He sells out and goes the streets alone.

21. Good Night

Many ways to spell good night.
Fireworks at a pier on the Fourth of July
spell it with red wheels and yellow spokes.
They fizz in the air, touch the water and quit.
Rockets make a trajectory of gold-and-blue and then go out.
Railroad trains at night spell with a smokestack mushrooming a white pillar.
Steamboats turn a curve in the Mississippi crying in a baritone
that crosses lowland cottonfields to a razorback hill.
It is easy to spell good night.
Many ways to spell good night.

22. Harvest Sunset

Red gold of pools,
Sunset furrows six o'clock,
And the farmer done in the fields
And the cows in the barns with bulging udders.

Take the cows and the farmer,
Take the barns and bulging udders.
Leave the red gold of pools
And sunset furrows six o'clock.
The farmer's wife is singing.
The farmer's boy is whistling.
I wash my hands in red gold of pools.

23. Hats

Hats, where do you belong?
What is under you?
On the rim of a skyscraper's forehead
I looked down and saw: hats: fifty thousand hats:
Swarming with a noise of bees and sheep, cattle and waterfalls,
Stopping with a silence of sea grass, a silence of prairie corn.
Hats: tell me your high hopes.

24. Languages

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing--and singing--remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

25. Manual System

Mary has a thingamajig clamped on her ears
And sits all day taking plugs out and sticking plugs in.
Flashes and flashes--voices and voices
calling for ears to pour words in

Faces at the ends of wires
asking for other faces at the ends of other wires:
All day taking plugs out and sticking plugs in,
Mary has a thingamajig clamped on her ears.

26. People Who Must

I painted on the roof of a skyscraper.
I painted a long while and called it a day's work.
The people on a corner swarmed
and the traffic cop's whistle never let up all afternoon.
They were the same as bugs, many bugs on their way--
Those people on the go or at a standstill;
And the traffic cop a spot of blue, a splinter of brass,
Where the black tides ran around him
And he kept the street. I painted a long while
And called it a day's work.

27. Potomac Town in February

The bridge says:
Come across, try me; see how good I am.
The big rock in the river says:
Look at me; learn how to stand up.
The white water says:
I go on; around, under, over, I go on.
A kneeling, scraggly pine says:
I am here yet; they nearly got me last year.
A sliver of moon slides by on a high wind calling:
I know why; I'll see you to-morrow;
I'll tell you everything to-morrow.

28. Sea-Wash

The sea-wash never ends.
The sea-wash repeats, repeats.
Only old songs?
Is that all the sea knows?
Only the old strong songs?
Is that all?
The sea-wash repeats, repeats.

29. Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

30. Chicago

"Everyone who is anyone says this should be included in any collection of Carl Sandburg's poetry; it is vivid, bold, brash, very American, very Sandburg, and my mother tells me that Sandburg is Chicago and Chicago is Sandburg."--Wendi C.

     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:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
     Building, breaking, 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,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

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