Poetry Review: “Languages” by Carl Sandburg

"Red Leaf" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

“Red Leaf” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I have not reviewed a Carl Sandburg poem for awhile. Longtime readers of MontanaWriter know that inspired by a visit to Sandburg’s birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois, I began reading his poems again in earnest a couple summers ago. For awhile then, I was routinely posting reviews of his poems.

Sandburg is again on my mind. Here is one from his most famous books of poetry, Chicago Poems.

Enjoy!

Languages
There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing–and singing–remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

Sing–and singing–remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

 

There is much to like in this poem, and much that is unforgettable. These lines in particular remind me of Ozymandias a bit… they are what Shelley would have written had he been born working class in the great plains of America.

When I read Sandburg I always think first of Whitman, of course, but next I think of Shelley. There is a fullness to Sandburg’s best poems that is reminiscent of Romanticism. It is that emotional element of his lyrical nature, I suppose. Whatever it is, Sandburg (Like Whitman and Shelley) is worth reading and remembering.

 

 

Comments are closed.