Sandburg Essay, Research Paper

Author-poet Carl Sandburg was born in the three-room cottage at 313 East Third

Street in Galesburg on January 6, 1878. The modest house reflects the typical

living conditions of a late nineteenth century working-class family. Many of the

furnishings once belonged to the Sandburg family are still in tact. Behind the

house stands a small wooded park. Underneath Remembrance Rock, lie the ashes

of Carl Sandburg, who died in 1967.

Carl August Sandburg was born the son of Swedish immigrants August and

Clara Anderson Sandburg. The elder Sandburg, a blacksmith’s helper for the

nearby Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, purchased the cottage in 1873.

Carl, called "Charlie" by the family, was born the second of seven children in

1878. A year later the Sandburgs sold the small cottage in favor of a larger house

in Galesburg. Carl Sandburg worked from the time he was a young boy. He quit

school following his graduation from eighth grade in 1891 and spent a decade

working many jobs. He delivered milk, harvested ice, laid bricks, threshed wheat

in Kansas, and shined shoes in Galesburg’s Union Hotel before traveling as a hobo

in 1897.

His experiences working and traveling greatly influenced his writing and

political views. As a hobo he learned a number of folk songs, which he later

performed at speaking engagements. He saw first-hand the large difference

between rich and poor, a inflence that instilled in him a distrust of capitalism.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 Sandburg volunteered for

service, and at the age of twenty was ordered to Puerto Rico, where he spent days

battling only heat and mosquitoes. Upon his return to his hometown later that year,

he entered Lombard College, supporting himself as a call fireman.

Sandburg’s college years shaped his literary talents and political views.

While at Lombard, Sandburg joined the Poor Writers’ Club, an informal literary

organization whose members met to read and criticize poetry. Poor Writers’

founder, Lombard professor Phillip Green Wright, a talented scholar and political

liberal, encouraged the talented young Sandburg. Sandburg honed his writing skills

and adopted the socialist views of his mentor before leaving school in his senior

year. Sandburg sold stereoscope views and wrote poetry for two years before his

first book of verse, In Reckless Ecstasy, was printed on Wright’s basement press in

1904. Wright printed two more volumes for Sandburg, Incidentals and The Plaint

of a Rose.

As the first decade of the century wore on, Sandburg grew increasingly

concerned with the plight of the American worker. In 1907 he worked as an

organizer for the Wisconsin Social Democratic party, writing and distributing

political pamphlets and literature. At party headquarters in Milwaukee, Sandburg

met Lilian Steichen, whom he married in 1908. The responsibilities of marriage

and family prompted a career change. Sandburg returned to Illinois and took up

journalism. For several years he worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News,

covering mostly labor issues and later writing his own feature.

Sandburg was virtually unknown to the literary world when, in 1914, a

group of his poems appeared in the nationally circulated Poetry magazine. Two

years later his book Chicago Poems was published, and the thirty-eight-year-old

author found himself on the brink of a career that would bring him international

acclaim. Sandburg published another volume of poems, Cornhuskers, in 1918, and

wrote a searching analysis of the 1919 Chicago race riots. More poetry followed,

along with Rootabaga Stories, a book of fanciful children’s tales. That book

prompted Sandburg’s publisher, Alfred Harcourt, to suggest a biography of

Abraham Lincoln for children. Sandburg researched and wrote for three years,

producing not a children’s book, but a two-volume biography for adults. His

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, published in 1926, was Sandburg’s first

financial success. He moved to a new home on the Michigan dunes and devoted

the next several years to completing four additional volumes, Abraham Lincoln:

The War Years, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. Sandburg continued

his prolific writing, publishing more poems, a novel, Remembrance Rock, a

second volume of folk songs, and an autobiography, Always the Young Strangers.

In 1945 the Sandburgs moved with their herd of prize-winning goats and

thousands of books to Flat Rock, North Carolina. Sandburg’s Complete Poems

won him a second Pulitzer Prize in 1951. Sandburg died at his North Carolina

home July 22, 1967. His ashes were returned, as he had requested, to his

Galesburg birthplace. In the small Carl Sandburg Park behind the house, his ashes

were placed beneath Remembrance Rock, a red granite boulder. Ten years later the

ashes of his wife were placed there.

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