Friday, December 11, 2009

Carl Sandburg - Chicago Poems

It's difficult for me to grapple with Carl Sandburg. Many of his poems come across as rather patronizing and ridiculous. I imagine him strolling down the street, smiling at blue-collar workers like some kind of faux-Buddha, thinking to himself, "Ah yes, the huddled masses, with their simple ways, and simple minds...I love them so. Hey, that's a great idea for a poem!" Another problem with Sandburg is that he was a bit of a plagiarist. The Fog, for example, was a pretty blatant rip-off The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (published just prior to The Chicago Poems), which contained a stanza clearly comparing fog to a cat. Observe the similarities:


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on


The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle upon the windowpanes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house and fell asleep.

Eliot's command of language was substantially better than Sandburg's, and this was just one stanza in the poem. It's kind of annoying for me to read The Fog for this reason.

On the other hand, as we discussed in class, Sandburg created quite a few of the seminal poetic visions of Chicago that are still used today. So yes, he was a plagiarist, but he has probably been plagiarized by millions of people himself, and deserves credit for laying out the basic precepts most people hold for Chicago. So Carl Sandburg - I salute you! Kind of.

No comments:

Post a Comment