There are sunsets who whisper a good-by.
It is a short dusk and a way for stars.
Prairie and sea rim they go level and even
And the sleep is easy.
There are sunsets who dance good-by.
They fling scarves half to the arc,
To the arc then and over the arc.
Ribbons at the ears, sashes at the hips.
Dancing, dancing good-by. And here sleep
Tosses a little with dreams.
Carl Sandburg, “Harvest Poems 1910-1960”
What is Carl Sandburg’s most famous poem?Known for such famous poems as “Chicago” (1914), and “Fog” (1916), he won the Pulitzer Prize (1940) for the last of his six-volume biography of Lincoln (1926–39).
Carl August Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American poet, biographer, journalist, and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. During his lifetime, Sandburg was widely regarded as “a major figure in contemporary literature”, especially for volumes of his collected verse, including Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1920). He enjoyed “unrivaled appeal as a poet in his day, perhaps because the breadth of his experiences connected him with so many strands of American life”, and at his death in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson observed that “Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America.”
Poetry and prose
Rootabaga Stories (book 1, 1922)Sandburg rented a room and lived for three years in this house, where he wrote the poem “Chicago”. It is now a Chicago landmark.
Much of Carl Sandburg’s poetry, such as “Chicago“, focused on Chicago, Illinois, where he spent time as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Day Book. His most famous description of the city is as “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.”
Sandburg earned Pulitzer Prizes for his collection The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Corn Huskers, and for his biography of Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: The War Years). Sandburg is also remembered by generations of children for his Rootabaga Stories and Rootabaga Pigeons, a series of whimsical, sometimes melancholy stories he originally created for his own daughters. The Rootabaga Stories were born of Sandburg’s desire for “American fairy tales” to match American childhood. He felt that the European stories involving royalty and knights were inappropriate, and so populated his stories with skyscrapers, trains, corn fairies and the “Five Marvelous Pretzels”.
In 1919, Sandburg was assigned by his editor at the Daily News to do a series of reports on the working classes and tensions among whites and African Americans. The impetus for these reports were race riots that had broken out in other American cities. Ultimately, major riots broke out in Chicago too, but much of Sandburg’s writing on the issues before the riots caused him to be seen as having a prophetic voice. A visiting philanthropist, Joel Spingarn, who was also an official of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, read Sandburg’s columns with interest and asked to publish them, as The Chicago Race Riots, July, 1919.
Sandburg’s popular multivolume biography Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, 2 vols. (1926) and Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 4 vols. (1939) are collectively “the best-selling, most widely read, and most influential book[s] about Lincoln.” The books have been through many editions, including a one-volume edition in 1954 prepared by Sandburg.
Sandburg’s Lincoln scholarship had an enormous impact on the popular view of Lincoln. The books were adapted by Robert E. Sherwood for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938) and David Wolper‘s six-part dramatization for television, Sandburg’s Lincoln (1974). He recorded excerpts from the biography and some of Lincoln’s speeches for Caedmon Records in New York City in May 1957. He was awarded a Grammy Award in 1959 for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland‘s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic. Some historians suggest more Americans learned about Lincoln from Sandburg than from any other source.
The books garnered critical praise and attention for Sandburg, including the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for History for the four-volume The War Years. But Sandburg’s works on Lincoln also brought substantial criticism. William E. Barton, who had published a Lincoln biography in 1925, wrote that Sandburg’s book “is not history, is not even biography” because of its lack of original research and uncritical use of evidence, but Barton nevertheless thought it was “real literature and a delightful and important contribution to the ever-lengthening shelf of really good books about Lincoln.” Others criticized Sandburg’s failure to document sources and factual errors. Others complain The Prairie Years and The War Years contain too much material that is neither biography nor history and is instead “sentimental poeticizing” by Sandburg. Sandburg may have viewed his book as an American epic more than as a mere biography, a view mirrored by other reviewers as well.
Sandburg’s 1927 anthology, the American Songbag, enjoyed enormous popularity, going through many editions; and Sandburg himself was perhaps the first American urban folk singer, accompanying himself on solo guitar at lectures and poetry recitals, and in recordings, long before the first or the second folk revival movements (of the 1940s and 1960s, respectively). According to the musicologist Judith Tick:
As a populist poet, Sandburg bestowed a powerful dignity on what the ’20s called the “American scene” in a book he called a “ragbag of stripes and streaks of color from nearly all ends of the earth … rich with the diversity of the United States.” Reviewed widely in journals ranging from the New Masses to Modern Music, the American Songbag influenced a number of musicians. Pete Seeger, who calls it a “landmark”, saw it “almost as soon as it came out.” The composer Elie Siegmeister took it to Paris with him in 1927, and he and his wife Hannah “were always singing these songs. That was home. That was where we belonged.”
Sandburg said he considered working on D. W. Griffith‘s Intolerance (1916) but his first film work was when he signed on to work on the production of The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) in July 1960 for a year, receving an “in creative association with Carl Sandburg” credit on the film.
Carl Sandburg Village was a 1960s urban renewal project in the Near North Side, Chicago. Financed by the city, it is located between Clark and LaSalle St. between Division Street and North Ave. Solomon & Cordwell, architects. In 1979, Carl Sandburg Village was converted to condominium ownership.
Numerous schools are named for Sandburg throughout the United States, and he was present at some of these schools’ dedications. (Some years after attending the 1954 dedication of Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Illinois, Sandburg returned for an unannounced visit; the school’s principal at first mistook him for a hobo.) Sandburg Halls, a student residence hall at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, carries a plaque commemorating Sandburg’s roles as an organizer for the Social Democratic Party and as personal secretary to Emil Seidel, Milwaukee’s first Socialist mayor.
Carl Sandburg Library opened in Livonia, Michigan in 1961. The name was recommended by the Library Commission as an example of an American author representing the best of literature of the Midwest. Carl Sandburg had taught at the University of Michigan for a time.
A subdivision in a suburbs of Atlanta Georgia is named after Carl Sandburg and his life. Connemara HOA in Lawrenceville (GA) includes the namesake of Connemara, his home in NC. Street names include Galesburg Dr (his birthplace), Windflower Way (named after the poem Windflower Leaf), Remembrance Trace (named after his only novel of Remembrance Rock), Flat Rock Dr (his home of Connemara in Flat Rock, NC), and Lombard Dr (the College he attended).
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