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Last Answers -- Carl Sandburg

(Poem #713) Last Answers
 I wrote a poem on the mist
 And a woman asked me what I meant by it.
 I had thought till then only of the beauty of the mist,
              how pearl and gray of it mix and reel,
 And change the drab shanties with lighted lamps at evening
              into points of mystery quivering with color.

   I answered:
 The whole world was mist once long ago and some day
              it will all go back to mist,
 Our skulls and lungs are more water than bone and tissue
 And all poets love dust and mist because all the last answers
 Go running back to dust and mist.
-- Carl Sandburg
An intriguing look at the nature of poetry, and yet another answer to the
perennial question every poet has to face - what does his poetry *mean*?
I personally think MacLeish put it best - 'a poem should not mean, but be',
but of course, that's far too simple a reply to a question generations of
poets have attempted to answer in myriad ways.

Returning to the poem, one could almost retitle it 'Two ways of looking at
the mist', and the two verses exemplify very different views on poetry.
Sandburg has combined the two neatly into a thought-provoking poem that,
like many of the best such poems, simultaneously talks about poetry and
illustrates its points via a parallel series of images.

And those images, of course, are imbued with all Sandburg's talent for
beauty and vividness - compare his 'Crucible' for another exquisite example.


'Crucible', and a Sandburg biography at
 poem #205

We've also run several other poems on poetry:

 Poem #186 Patrick MacGill, 'By-the-Way'
 Poem #187 R. S. Thomas, 'Poetry for Supper'
 Poem #188 Archibald MacLeish, 'Ars Poetica'
 Poem #189 bpNichol, 'dear Captain Poetry'
 Poem #190 Nicanor Parra, 'Young Poets'
 Poem #428 Eve Merriam, 'Reply to the Question: "How can You Become a Poet?"'


15 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ajit Narayanan said...

c.f. Piet Hein:
A poet should be of the old-fashioned, meaningless brand,
Obscure, esoteric, symbolic -- the critics demand it;
So if there's a poem of mine that you do understand,
I'll gladly explain it to you till you don't understand it.


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