Carl Sandburg
 
1878-1967

Chronology

 
 
This is Carl’s workroom at Connemara in East Flat Rock, N.C., where he spent many hours working on poetry and other famous writings.
 
   

 

This is Carl’s home at Connemara Farm, Flat Rock, N.C. He and his family lived here the last 22 years of his life.  It is now a National Historic Site and can be toured by the public. It is a fabulous tour that is well worth your time! The farm consists of the 22-room house, barns, sheds, rolling pastures, mountainside woods, trails, two small lakes, a trout pond, flower and vegetable gardens, and an orchard.
   
Carl referred to his wife, Lilian, as "a champion breeder of a champion." Mrs. Sandburg was internationally recognized as a dairy goat breeder. In 1960, her most famed goat, Jennifer II, broke the World Toggenburg record for milk production when she produced 5,750 pounds of milk in one year!
   
 
 Carl often serenaded Lilian with his jester guitar.
 


 
Home Thoughts
 
The sea rocks have a green moss.
The pine rocks have red berries.
I have memories of you.
 
….
 
Speak to me of how you miss me.
Tell me the hours go long and slow.
 
Speak to me of the drag on your heart,
The iron drag of the long days.
 
I know hours empty as a beggar’s tin cup on a rainy day,
Empty as a soldier’s sleeve with an arm lost.
 
Speak to me . . .

 

 

Explication of "Home Thoughts"

 
This poem by Carl Sandburg is written in free verse. This style became popular among 20th century poets. "It was said in the 1920s that if you still didn’t like free verse, you would, once you heard Sandburg. He was considered the master interpreter of his own poetry" (H. Sandburg, 76). "His own particular style of writing is evident, if in a paler version, in the early letters, poems, and pieces of prose that he wrote. At Lombard College he had read the English authors, had admired Keats, Shelley, and Browning. His first poems were often rhymed and marked with traditional rhythms, but in his phrasings, his pauses, his subject matter, there is the clear mark of Carl Sandburg. That mysterious decider, style, was there from the beginning" (70).

 
The poem "Home Thoughts" was written to his loving wife, Lilian "Paula" Sandburg. When they first met, there was to be a blizzard of letters. He won her, first, through his writing." (56) This particular poem was written after their marriage. The hardest aspect of their marriage was the separation when Carl would be traveling on lecture trips. It was necessary to provide income for the family, yet it was a heartfelt loss each day they were apart. He was in Scandinavia on a newspaper assignment when his daughter Helga was born. It was evidently painful to be separated at such milestones in their life. The poem "Home Thoughts" expresses his yearnings to be by her side. The traveling was something they both grew to accept. It was a financial necessity and being a wanderer, it suited Carl to see the changing landscape and many faces of America.

 
We see the literary device known as a simile in the eighth line "hours empty as a beggar’s tin cup on a rainy day." Line nine also refers to the emptiness: "Empty as a soldier’s sleeve with an arm lost." It is here that he is trying to convey to you the deep emotional torment of being away from his loving wife and family. Also, note that he uses a device known as repetition. He refers to the "drag on your heart" and then re-emphasizes it in the next line "the iron drag" to give you the feeling of the heaviness of his heart. He also repeats "Speak to me . . ." at the end of the poem letting us know that he longs to hear her voice. He uses symbolism in the first lines where he notes that "The sea rocks have a green moss and the pine rocks have red berries." These lines refer to the closeness of the rock and moss. It symbolizes that he is "incomplete" without her. Even nature has identities that compliment each other. She makes him whole.

 
"Before their marriage, in a letter postscript, he once wrote to her, "No, I will never get the letter written and finished. It will always need postscripts. I end one and six minutes after have to send more. All my life I must write at this letter --- this Letter of Love for the Great Woman Who Came and Knew and Loved. All my life this must go on!" (67)

 
"The day before my grandfather died, he lay quiet, not speaking. At midnight my grandmother went in to him, to see that all was well before retiring. She touched his hand, and he looked into her face and spoke his single, last word, "Paula." (68)

 
"What was the popular conception of poetry at the time that my grandfather began writing his own? The poets read by most Americans were those such as James Whitcomb Riley and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Walt Whitman had been published, of course, but he was not widely accepted or enjoyed. Readers felt at home with a poetry that glorified, idealized, and often softened the hard lines of life. They expected to be carried away from social problems and the mundane routine of their own lives and surroundings" (M. Sandburg, 70).

 
"But young Charles Sandburg had been a different kind of reader, and he was to become a different kind of writer. Professor Wright wrote of him in those early, formative years, "He reads everything: Boccaccio, Walt Whitman, Emerson, Tolstoi, and enters with appreciation and sympathetic enthusiasm into all that he reads. But literature, even the best, is but a pallid reflection of life; he prefers impressions at first hand" (70).

 
"Any of the unpublished poems could be picked up and read by anyone familiar with American poetry and the reader could say with conviction, ‘The author must be Carl Sandburg.’ His style was not the product of scholarly pursuit and intention; it was an extension of the man and the man’s life, coming more from instinct than design." (70)
 

"My grandfather hit his stride at an early age, but the hurdles before him were great. The years before his acceptance as a poet were marked by stacks of rejection letters, and by a need for continual work in areas other than poetry so he could provide the bare necessities of life. There was a great reluctance on the part of readers and critics to accept free verse and the particular subject matter of Sandburg’s poetry. Above all, however, the years were marked by his undaunted determination and his personal faith in the value of his work"(Salwak, 70).

 
"He began writing poetry after he entered Lombard College, where he received so much encouragement from Professor Wright. He was first a writer, and afterwards a poet, for his writing career, as such, had begun with the letters that he wrote home for the Galesburg paper during the Spanish-American War. But it seems that once he began writing poetry, began to feel his own style developing and began to see how well poetry succeeded in expressing his feelings and thoughts, he turned to it instinctively and there was never to be a time in his life after that in which he stopped writing poetry"(70).

 
 

Bibliography

Salwak, Dale. Carl Sandburg: A Reference Guide. Macmillan, 1988.

Provides a chronological listing (1904-1985) of articles relating to Sandburg and and criticism of his work.

 

Sandburg, Helga. A Great and Glorious Romance: The Story of Carl Sandburg and Lilian Steichen. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

 

Sandburg, Margaret, editor. Breathing Tokens (a collection of previously unpublished poems by Carl Sandburg). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Written by Lisa Lee, student, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, 1998
Edited by Mark Canada, Ph.D.