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Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was hailed during his life as an accomplished poet, historian, novelist, and folklorist. However, he is remembered as one of the country's greatest poets, speaking for the common worker, the farm couple, and nature itself through poems that read as folk songs.Harvest Poems[ Click to Order Sandburg's Harvest Poems: 1910-1960 (soft $) ]

Valley Song

Your eyes and the valley are memories.
Your eyes fire and the valley a bowl.
It was here a moonrise crept over the timberline.
It was here we turned the coffee cups upside down.
And your eyes and the moon swept the valley.

I will see you again to-morrow.
I will see you again in a million years.
I will never know your dark eyes again.
These are three ghosts I keep.
These are three sumach-red dogs I run with.

All of it wraps and knots to a riddle:
I have the moon, the timberline, and you.
All three are gone--and I keep all three.
---
(1918 - Cornhuskers)

The subtle gesture of "[turning] the coffee cups upside down," becomes more than a simple action -- it is a trans- formation; it is eyes that are NOT like fire but ARE fire. It is the valley NOT shaped like a bowl, but a bowl.

What I like about the poem is the way it successfully captures the paradoxical nature of memories, how they are triggered and exist in a world of their own.

Sandburg acknowledges this paradox (a riddle) in the last stanza. "All three are gone" (lost, perhaps through death?), yet he is able to retain them. While there's no new ground being broken here, the poem successfully captures an experience in captivating images and sounds (especially "the sumach-red dogs I run with.")


Sunset From Omaha Hotel Window

Into the blue river hills
The red sun runners go
And the long sand changes
And to-day is a goner
And to-day is not worth haggling over.

    Here in Omaha
    The gloaming is bitter
    As in Chicago
    Or Kenosha.

The long sand changes.
To-day is a goner.
Time knocks in another brass nail.
Another yellow plunger shoots the dark.

    Constellations
    Wheeling over Omaha
    As in Chicago
    Or Kenosha.

The long sand is gone
    and all the talk is stars.
They circle in a dome over Nebraska.
---
(1918 - Cornhuskers)

The repetition of "[today] is a goner," the use of the unusual word "gloaming" for twilight, and the simple images in this poem are characteristic of the poet.

The two lines "Time knocks in another brass nail" and "Another yellow plunger shoots the dark" are the most metaphorically-loaded, which fittingly come at the middle of the poem. The sparse use of metaphors and a down-to- earth tone and diction (word choice) creates a simple mood to poems that are easy to comprehend on a grammatical and line-by-line level, yet complex in meaning.

The resonating and haunting setting created by the poem, one of an idealized world being presented through the eyes of a nostalgic poet (while also taking place in the present tense), is brought to a close beneath a star-filled "dome over Nebraska."


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