My previous exposure to Sandburg was limited to the bits and pieces included in various anthologies and literature textbooks, and I don’t believe I ever gave them much thought or credit. This time, however, I was drawn in, eating up every word. I’m not sure what made the difference–whether it was reading so many of his poems consecutively, or maybe I feel more of a connection having lived in the Chicago area for a while–but I basically devoured the whole book in one sitting.
I found the writing to be honest, human, occasionally gritty, deliberate without feeling contrived, relevant, and just fun to read.
This one was a favorite:
The working girls in the morning are going to work–
long lines of them afoot amid the downtown stores
and factories, thousands with little brick-shaped
lunches wrapped in newspapers under their arms.
Each morning as I move through this river of young-
woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all
going, so many with a peach bloom of young years
on them and laughter of red lips and memories in
their eyes of dances the night before and plays and
Green and gray streams run side by side in a river and
so here are always the others, those who have been
over the way, the women who know each one the
end of life’s gamble for her, the meaning and the
clew, the how and the why of the dances and the
arms that passed around their waists and the fingers
that played in their hair.
Faces go by written over: “I know it all, I know where
the bloom and the laughter go and I have memories,”
and the feet of these move slower and they
have wisdom where the others have beauty.
So the green and the gray move in the early morning
on the downtown streets.
I love the contrasting descriptions of the two groups of people, the “green and the grey”: the young working girls living in the present, marching forward in the morning–and the “others” who have been “over the way” and have the answers, the memories, the wisdom.
I also thought that while Sandburg’s poems are not necessarily “pretty” (they were, at the time, a departure from the “elevated” themes and forms of contemporaries) his writing is not without grace.
UNDER THE HARVEST MOON
Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
Needless to say, I am glad I grabbed the book, and am once again reminded that most things deserve a second look.