Friday, January 23, 2009

Passers-by, a poem by Carl Sandburg.

I normally like Elizabeth Alexander's poetry. However, I wasn’t particularly taken by her inauguration day poem, "Praise Song for the Day." So I asked myself who would I have picked if the president had asked me to make the choice. I would probably have recommended Passers-by by Carl Sandburg from his Chicago Poems (1916) both for the relevance of the poem and the poet.

Carl Sandburg (January, 1878 – July, 1967) was an American writer and editor, best known for his poetry. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his poetry and another for a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois to Swedish immigrants. At the age of thirteen he left school and began driving a milk wagon. He subsequently became a bricklayer and a farm laborer on the wheat plains of Kansas. After an interval spent at Lombard College in Galesburg, he became a hotel servant in Denver, then a coal-heaver in Omaha. He began his writing career as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Later he wrote poetry, history, biography, novels, children's literature, and film reviews. Sandburg also collected and edited books of ballads and folklore. He spent most of his life in the Midwest before moving to North Carolina. He once said, “All politicians should have three hats - one to throw into the ring, one to talk through, and one to pull rabbits out of if elected.” He also believed that, “Ordering a man to write a poem is like commanding a pregnant woman to give birth to a red-headed child.”

Passers-by by Carl Sandburg.

Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blent
To form the city’s afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.

I remember lean ones among you,
Throats in the clutch of a hope,
Lips written over with strivings,
Mouths that kiss only for love.
Records of great wishes slept with,
Held long
And prayed and toiled for. . .

Written on
Your mouths
And your throats
I read them
When you passed by.

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