Carl August Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois on January 6, 1878. His parents, August and Clara Johnson, were immigrants from Sweden. After he encountered many August Johnsons in his job with the railroad, Carls father decided to rename the family. The Sandburgs were poor and as a result, Carl had to quit school at the age of thirteen to drive a milk truck and deliver milk to help support the family. At seventeen, Carl Sandburg went to Kansas as a hobo.
During the eight months that he served in Puerto Rico for the Spanish American war, he encountered a student from Lombard College (now Knox College), the college located in his hometown. He was convinced to enroll there after the war. At Lombard College, Carl Sandburg wrote his first poems which attracted the attention of Professor Phillip Green Wright, who encouraged the writing as well as paid for the publication of Sandburgs first volume of poetry in 1904, called Reckless Ecstasy. Even though he attended Lombard College for four years, he never received his degree, although he did receive many honorary degrees later in his life.
After college, Sandburg moved to Milwaukee and became a journalist. There he met and married Lillian Steichen. Earlier he had adopted many socialist views and in Wisconsin he had the chance to serve as the secretary to the first socialist mayor in Milwaukee from 1910 to 1912. After that, he moved to Chicago and wrote for the Chicago Daily News and had his poems published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. The editor liked his distinctly different style of poetry and encouraged him to write more. He became more widely known with the publishing of Chicago Poems in 1916. Cornhuskers was published in 1918 and then Smoke and Steel in 1920.
When Sandburg was twenty, he began collecting information for a biography of his childhood hero, Abraham Lincoln. He collected information for this project for 30 years. While he was collecting information for this six-volume biography, he also began collecting folklore for his children books. When he finally finished the biography of Lincoln in 1939, Sandburg was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and then received a second Pulitzer Prize in 1951 for his Complete Poems. From 1945 on, Sandburg lived in Flat Rock, North Carolina and bred prize-winning goats. Sandburg died in his North Carolina home on July 22, 1967.
His ashes were placed under Remembrance Rock in Carl Sandburg Park behind his childhood home. Throughout his life, Sandburg drew major opposition due to his radical attitude. (Carl Sandburg 461). Sandburg is a definite radical. A radical is someone that is very different from the normal. Sandburg is very different from his contemporaries in his poetry and ideas. In his early years, Sandburgs style of writing was said to offer an important challenge to traditional forms of poetry (Lowell 337). Sandburg wrote completely different from the other poets in his time and incorporated unusual subjects and ideas for that time.
In his early books, he talked about aspects of urban life, which had not been talked about much before in poetry. His focus is mainly on the common person, he cares and believes deeply in people (MacLeish 20). He is concerned with the poetry itself and leaves the colloquial speech unpolished. Many people enjoy Sandburgs style of writing and enjoy his straying from the normal subjects and want to see other poets accept this poetic manner. There are also those that oppose this radical style. Sandburgs choice to let his subjects talk for themselves make many critics accuse him of being a folklorist and not a poet at all (Lowell 337-338).
Another major objection to Sandburgs type of poetry is the lack of development in it. When asked of his feelings about Sandburg, Robert Frost said that Sandburgs writing is like playing tennis with the net down (Angyal 2450). Frost, a poetic rival clearly does not like Sandburgs writing style and thinks it is unnatural, as do many critics. The New York Times Book Review said, Some of it is poetry, some is decidedly not poetry. It is a pity that so many writers are bent on confusing the terms (Lowell 338) This very different poet has a definite line dividing those who accept Sandburg and those who oppose this radical.
Carl Sandburgs ideas are very shocking to many people. His radicalism includes opinions about life and the welfare of society. When commenting on Smoke and Steel, one of Sandburgs books, the Times Literary said, What does it matter (he seems to say) that the Parthenon is the supreme expression of a supreme expression of a supreme wisdom, that Shakespeare is the supreme poet of tragedy and comedy, that anything supremely excellent and beautiful has been created in the past?
The Parthenon is a ruin; Shakespeare is dust: excellence and beauty, what are they? (Untermeyer 306) While people look back at the past, Sandburg feels that the present is all that matters. Sandburg was also very involved in the socialist movement early in his career and his feelings are shown through his poetry. Amy Lowell says, Two men speak in Mr. Sandburg, a poet and a propagandist (Lowell 340).
His radical views about the government clearly come out in many of his works. Lowell goes on to say, In my study of Mr. SandburgI pointed out this danger of his practice. Then I had only one book to go upon, now I have three and the danger seems to me to be looming larger with terrific speed. It may be that Mr. Sandburg has determined to stuff all his theories into one book and let it go at that. In which case there cannot be too much objection, but I fearoh I fear. Lowell 340)
His strong feelings not only disturb some people, there were also times at which the military was watching his as a dangerous radical, yet at the same time he was giving recitals to groups of polite people who were distinctly unradical (Radical Sandburg 7). Many people fail to realize that Sandburg has strong opinions against what they believe, even Sandburg did not realize that he was mixing propaganda with poetry. He admits sympathizing with the Socialist movement and agrees that political ideas should be kept out of poetry, but he says his radical feelings seemed to have crept in (Radical Sandburg 4).
The reason for the unintentional portrayal of his feelings have been said to occur because after he left the socialist party, Rather than renouncing his socialist beliefs and moving onSandburg became deeply radicalized, was absolutely partisan, moved startlingly leftward (Radical Sandburg 2). His feelings have also escaped his fans throughout the years because his reputation as the biographer of Abraham Lincoln, the riter of poems, and the singer of ballads have overshadowed his early work and his radical character.
His attitude has not escaped everyone, its been said that with the conditions of America in1920, Sandburg took his American Radicalism as far as he could (Radical Sandburg 7). Most people either accepted Sandburgs poetry or were completely opposed to it. Sandburg is remembered by most as a great poet, not as a radical. Others refuse to remember him as a great American Poet. W. W. Wright summed up the view of Sandburgs opposers in a brief statement, He was an angry radical, andfew angry radicals make good poets. Its the balance, stupid.