(Poem #205) Crucible
Hot gold runs a winding stream on the inside of a green bowl. Yellow trickles in a fan figure, scatters a line of skirmishes, spreads a chorus of dancing girls, performs blazing ochre evolutions, gathers the whole show into one stream, forgets the past and rolls on. The sea-mist green of the bowl's bottom is a dark throat of sky crossed by quarreling forks of umber and ochre and yellow changing faces.
Carl Sandburg is often thought of as a working man's poet, and it's true that his major theme is the "attempt to find beauty in modern industrialism... celebrating industrial and agricultural America, American geography and landscape, and the American common people." His words are plain and unadorned; his rhythms driving, energetic; his philosophy simple and direct. He eulogizes workers: "Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Gary, they make their steel with men", and glorifies life in all its raw beauty: "Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning." Yet to dismiss him as merely a hewer of granitic verse - passionate, yes, but also crude and unsophisticated in the traditions of 'true' poetry - would be to do him an injustice, for he could wield the finest of chisels with rare skill, crafting poems of delicate strength and perfect balance. Today's vignette is one of them: it has all the beauty (both superficial and implicit) of the very best Imagist poems, while retaining the energy and flow that's so characteristic of Sandburg. Lovely. thomas. [Biography] Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878. His parents, August and Clara Johnson, had emigrated to America from the north of Sweden. After encountering several August Johnsons in his job for the railroad, the Sandburg's father renamed the family. The Sandburgs were very poor; Carl left school at the age of thirteen to work odd jobs, from laying bricks to dishwashing, to help support his family. At seventeen, he traveled west to Kansas as a hobo. He then served eight months in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American war. While serving, Sandburg met a student at Lombard College, the small school located in Sandburg's hometown. The young man convinced Sandburg to enroll in Lombard after his return from the war. Sandburg worked his way through school, where he attracted the attention of Professor Philip Green Wright, who not only encouraged Sandburg's writing, but paid for the publication of his first volume of poetry, a pamphlet called Reckless Ecstasy (1904). While Sandburg attended Lombard for four years, he never received a diploma (he would later receive honorary degrees from Lombard, Knox College, and Northwestern University). After college, Sandburg moved to Milwaukee, where he worked as an advertising writer and a newspaper reporter. While there, he met and married Lillian Steichen (whom he called Paula), sister of the photographer Edward Steichen. A Socialist sympathizer at that point in his life, Sandburg then worked for the Social-Democrat Party in Wisconsin and later acted as secretary to the first Socialist mayor of Milwaukee from 1910 to 1912. The Sandburgs soon moved to Chicago, where Carl became an editorial writer for the Chicago Daily News. Harriet Monroe had just started Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, and began publishing Sandburg's poems, encouraging him to continue writing in the free-verse, Whitman-like style he had cultivated in college. Monroe liked the poems' homely speech, which distinguished Sandburg from his predecessors. It was during this period that Sandburg was recognized as a member of the Chicago literary renaissance, which included Ben Hecht, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters. He established his reputation with Chicago Poems (1916), and then Cornhuskers (1918). Soon after the publication of these volumes Sandburg wrote Smoke and Steel (1920), his first prolonged attempt to find beauty in modern industrialism. With these three volumes, Sandburg became known for his free verse poems celebrating industrial and agricultural America, American geography and landscape, and the American common people. In the twenties, he started some of his most ambitious projects, including his study of Abraham Lincoln. From childhood, Sandburg loved and admired the legacy of President Lincoln. For thirty years he sought out and collected material, and gradually began the writing of the six-volume definitive biography of the former president. The twenties also saw Sandburg's collections of American folklore, the ballads in The American Songbag and The New American Songbag (1950), and books for children. These later volumes contained pieces collected from brief tours across America which Sandburg took each year, playing his banjo or guitar, singing folk-songs, and reciting poems. In the 1930s, Sandburg continued his celebration of America with Mary Lincoln, Wife and Widow (1932), The People, Yes (1936), and the second part of his Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He received a second Pulitzer Prize for his Complete Poems in 1950. His final volumes of verse were Harvest Poems,and Honey and Salt (1963). Carl Sandburg died in 1967. -- from the site of the American Academy of Poets, http://www.poets.org/ [Minstrels Links] The EB biography of Sandburg can be had at poem #163 'Chicago', Sandburg's most famous poem, was also one of the very first poems to be run on Minstrels; you can read it at poem #5 And of course, all our other poems are archived at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/