Poetry Review: “The South Wind Says So” by Carl Sandburg

Rememberance Rock
Your’s Truly and Remembrance Rock

Some long-time readers of MontanaWriter may remember that last summer, coming home from a family vacation in The Smoky Mountains, Sue and I visited Carl Sandburg’s birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois. Moved by the experience I purchased a volume of Sandburg’s complete poems the following week.

A year later, Sandburg continues to delight me. The more I read, the more I am certain that he is the most overlooked American poet of the 20th Century.

It has been awhile since I reviewed a Sandburg poem here. Sandburg has been on my mind again and so I post this one, “The South Wind Says So.” It is from his third collection of poetry, Smoke and Steel.



The South Wind Says So
If the oriole calls like last year
when the south wind sings in the oats,
if the leaves climb and climb on a bean pole
saying over a song learnt from the south wind,
if the crickets send up the same old lessons
found when the south wind keeps on coming,
we will get by, we will keep on coming,
we will get by, we will come along,
we will fix our hearts over,
the south wind says so.


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

we will get by, we will keep on coming,
we will get by, we will come along,
we will fix our hearts over,
the south wind says so.


The melancholy tone of this poems is palpable. It is created primarily by the way Sandburg uses the long ‘o’ sound in the beginning of the poem. Each of the first five lines have one long ‘o’. It is something you notice especially when you read the poem out-loud, something you should always do with every poem.

Sandburg, a musician, understands “sound” as well as any poet. He also understand space, growing up as he did in the flat and open prairie of western Illinois. This is why he does the small poem so well which relies so heavily on the interplay between sound and space.


Poetry Review: “Wingtip” by Carl Sandburg

"When will man know what birds know?"
“When will man know what birds know?”

There are poets I love because they represent elusive/ideal/transcendent/otherworldly beauty: Yeats, Keats, Shelley, Milton, Blake, Byron. There are other poets I love because they represent familiar/democratic (small “d”)/transubstatiated/thisworldly beauty: Kooser, Heaney, Whitman, Frost, and Sandburg.

I still have my first volume of Carl Sandburg that I ever purchased, Honey and Salt. I bought it for $1.50 new in September 1976, according to a note I made in my 16-year-old hand on the inside front cover. Thirty-five years later it still sits on my shelf… one of only a few books that remain from my pre-college days.

This weekend while driving back from the Great Smoky Mountains, Sue and I decided at the last minute to stop by Galesburg, Illinois, to see Carl Sandburg’s birthplace. Since I had a long record for finding writer’s museums/homes closed at the times I tried visiting, and since it was late Sunday morning, we did not expect it to be open. But we thought it was worth seeing anyway.

It was open and a wonderful tribute to wonderful poet.

“Wingtip” comes from the volume Honey and Salt. It is a simple poem, but one that I have always loved. At once elegant and democratic, easy and complex… it is the work of a poet in love with the world and with the things of this world. In a word, it is pure Sandburg.


The birds – are they worth remembering?
Is flight a wonder and one wingtip a
space marvel?
When will man know what birds know?