by Carl Sandburg
Sources: selections from Cornhuskers, Henry Holt, 1918 and Chicago Poems, Henry Holt, 1916
HTML Markup: For marxists.org in December, 2001.
THE BABY moon, a canoe, a silver papoose canoe, sails and
sails in the Indian west.
A ring of silver foxes, a mist of silver foxes, sit and sit
around the Indian moon.
One yellow star for a runner, and rows of blue stars for
more runners, keep a line of watchers.
O foxes, baby moon, runners, you are the panel of memory,
fire-white writing to-night of the Red Man’s dreams.
Who squats, legs crossed and arms folded, matching its
look against the moon-face, the star-faces, of the West?
Who are the Mississippi Valley ghosts, of copper foreheads,
riding wiry ponies in the night? — no bridles,
love-arms on the pony necks, riding in the night a
long old trail?
Why do they always come back when the silver foxes sit
around the early moon, a silver papoose, in the Indian west?
There was a high majestic fooling
Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.
And day after to-morrow in the yellow corn
There will be high majestic fooling.
The ears ripen in late summer
And come on with a conquering laughter,
Come on with a high and conquering laughter.
The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse.
One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk
And a spot of red is on its shoulder
And I never heard its name in my life.
Some of the ears are bursting.
A white juice works inside.
Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind.
Always–I never knew it any other way–
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together.
Over the road is the farmhouse.
The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose.
It will not be fixed till the corn is husked.
The farmer and his wife talk things over together.
Psalm of Those Who Go Forth Before Daylight
The Policeman buys shoes slow and careful; the teamster buys gloves slow and careful; they take care of their feet and hands; they live on their feet and hands.
The milkman never argues; he works alone and no one speaks to him; the city is asleep when he is on the job; he puts a bottle on six hundred porches and calls it a day’s work; he climbs two hundred wooden stairways; two horses are company for him; he never argues.
The rolling-mill men and the sheet-steel men are brothers of cinders; they empty cinders out of their shoes after the day’s work; they ask their wives to fix burnt holes in the knees of their trousers; their necks and ears are covered with a smut; they scour their necks and ears; they are brothers of cinders.
I TOO have a garret of old playthings.
I have tin soldiers with broken arms upstairs.
I have a wagon and the wheels gone upstairs.
I have guns and a drum, a jumping-jack and a magic lantern.
And dust is on them and I never look at them upstairs.
I too have a garret of old playthings.
White moon comes in on a baby face.
The shafts across her bed are flimmering.
Out on the land White Moon shines,
Shines and glimmers against gnarled shadows,
All silver to slow twisted shadows
Falling across the long road that runs from the house.
Keep a little of your beauty
And some of your flimmering silver
For her by the window to-night
Where you come in, White Moon.
Bury this old Illinois farmer with respect.
He slept the Illinois nights of his life after days of work
in Illinois cornfields.
Now he goes on a long sleep.
The wind he listened to in the cornsilk and the tassels,
the wind that combed his red beard zero mornings
when the snow lay white on the yellow ears in the
bushel basket at the corncrib,
The same wind will now blow over the place here where
his hands must dream of Illinois corn.
I saluted a nobody.
I saw him in a looking-glass.
He smiled–so did I.
He crumpled the skin on his forehead,
frowning–so did I.
Everything I did he did.
I said, "Hello, I know you."
And I was a liar to say so.
Ah, this looking-glass man!
Liar, fool, dreamer, play-actor,
Soldier, dusty drinker of dust–
Ah! he will go with me
Down the dark stairway
When nobody else is looking,
When everybody else is gone.
He locks his elbow in mine,
I lose all – but not him.
Prayers of Steel
LAY me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through
blue nights into white stars.
The pawn-shop man knows hunger,
And how far hunger has eaten the heart
Of one who comes with an old keepsake.
Here are wedding rings and baby bracelets,
Scarf pins and shoe buckles, jeweled garters,
Old-fashioned knives with inlaid handles,
Watches of old gold and silver,
Old coins worn with finger-marks.
They tell stories.
The shadows of the ships
Rock on the crest
In the low blue lustre
Of the tardy and the soft inrolling tide.
A long brown bar at the dip of the sky
Puts an arm of sand in the span of salt.
The lucid and endless wrinkles
Draw in, lapse and withdraw.
Wavelets crumble and white spent bubbles
Wash on the floor of the beach.
Rocking on the crest
In the low blue lustre
Are the shadows of the ships.
Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor's breast
And the harbor's eyes
I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an
Theme in Yellow
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o'-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
I know a Jew fish crier down on Maxwell Street with a
voice like a north wind blowing over corn stubble
He dangles herring before prospective customers evincing
a joy identical with that of Pavlowa dancing.
His face is that of a man terribly glad to be selling fish,
terribly glad that God made fish, and customers to
whom he may call his wares, from a pushcart.
The sea is never still.
It pounds on the shore
Restless as a young heart,
The sea speaks
And only the stormy hearts
Know what it says:
It is the face
of a rough mother speaking.
The sea is young.
One storm cleans all the hoar
And loosens the age of it.
I hear it laughing, reckless.
They love the sea,
Men who ride on it
And know they will die
Under the salt of it
Let only the young come,
Says the sea.
Let them kiss my face
And hear me.
I am the last word
And I tell
Where storms and stars come from.
The child's wonder
At the old moon
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, "See the moon!"
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.
To Beachey, 1912
Riding against the east,
A veering, steady shadow
Purrs the motor-call
Of the man-bird
Ready with the death-laughter
In his throat
And in his heart always
The love of the big blue beyond.
Only a man,
A far fleck of shadow on the east
Sitting at ease
With his hands on a wheel
And around him the large gray wings.
Hold him, great soft wings,
Keep and deal kindly, O wings,
With the cool, calm shadow at the wheel.