Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg

When I read The Complete Poems of Robert Frost, I read about ten pages a day over the course of two months. In a similar manner, I spent two months reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. It worked well. In both cases I enjoyed taking the books slowly, having time to digest what the poets said. Sometimes, I had to do a little research to discover the events to which they referred. In the end, I felt I learned much about their lives and times. I should be treating The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg the same, but I am not. With less than two weeks before a book discussion, I began the book and quickly found it overwhelming. With two days left, I am far from finishing the book and have turned to sampling. It is not nearly so satisfying as the slow treatment that I used before. Still, I have learned much.

Sandburg's poetry from the end of his life seems far different from his Chicago Poems that were published in 1916. The early works seem quickly written while the later works seem more refined. His concern for the lower classes and the worker is consistent, but the early work is more drama, while the later is philosophy. The world changed greatly from 1916 to 1967. Still, according to the essays I have read, it is the early work that is most often anthologized.

While reading Sandburg can be a bit of an historical exercise, especially when much of our factory work has been sent overseas, it still has moments of contemporary relevance. With the current economic crisis growing, "Buyers and Sellers" from his book Honey and Salt (1963) asks what white or blue collar workers could ask.

What is a man worth?
What can he do?
What is his value?
On the one hand those who buy labor,
On the other hand those who have nothing to sell but their labor.
And when the buyers of labor tell the sellers, "Nothing doing today, not a chance!" - then what?

For a new look at Sandburg, turn to YouTube. There is a slideshow about a meeting between Marilyn Monroe with Sandburg and an animation of a Sandburg still photo reading from "The People, Yes."

I'd like to start all over now and take the book slowly.

Sandburg, Carl. The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. Harcourt, 1969. ISBN 0151009961


Maalik said...

Honey and Salt is one of my favorite Sandburg books. I found this book when I was a teen and really savored some of the poems. Happily, I found a used copy a few years ago -- it doesn't seem like too many libraries have it.

ricklibrarian said...


Many libraries do have the Complete Poems, which includes Honey and Salt, saving space over the many volumes. Of course, the smaller volumes are easier to handle than the heavy Complete Poems.