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Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was a straight talker. He wasn't one of those poets who was into writing in crazy forms, like the villanelle, or crazy meters, like dactylic hexameter. He wasn't into fancy five-syllable words, or quoting Milton in his poems, or writing long, complex poems that only a few poetry nerds could understand.
Instead, our dude Carl was interested in the people. He once said, "I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass. Did you know that all the work of the world is done through me?" Instead of writing for fancy-pants academics, Carl wanted to represent, speak for, and speak to regular ol' Joes like you and me. He wanted to portray the common man (and woman) in his poetry, and preferred to do so in short, clear, poems, with simple, straightforward, and uncluttered language. Sandburg was interested in writing for the many, not the few.
In "Grass," which was published in 1918 right after the end of the Great War (now known to us as World War I), Sandburg takes the issue of war head on. And he doesn't just write about the recent war; he tackles a very long history of wars in his poem, and connects them all together with the idea of the grass growing over battlefields. Sure, wars end, seasons change, time passes, battlefields are covered in new grass, and new life begins, but can we ever really heal from the scars of war? Does the new grass wipe clear our memories? Whose job is it to remember anyway?
Read "Grass," and find out.
War: what is it good for? This song answers the question pretty succinctly—"absolutely nothing". But whether you're a big ol' pacifist, a feisty war-monger, or something in between, you can't pretend that wars haven't played a role in your life.
Maybe your grandfather fought in World War I. Maybe your aunt was in Iraq, or maybe your brother's serving right now in Afghanistan. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that war's a part of our national and our personal histories, and it affects us in big ways and small.
Carl Sandburg's poem "Grass" is a call to remember the wars of the past, the battles lost and won, the lives and the scars that are affected—and created—by war. Long after the battlefields are cleared of dead bodies, long after the grass has done its work and covered up the nation's battle scars, some of us, in fact many of us, are still scarred emotionally by war. The grass may cover up the physical remains of battlefields, but our memories and experiences of war, as soldier or as civilian, survive for years and years. Reading this poem might just help you to be able to deal with that undeniable, but rarely-talked-about, fact.
His Very Own Website
Check it out here.
This is a good one, written by the good folks at the Poetry Foundation.
Are You Really into Military History?
Well, then! Think about taking part in a Battle of Gettysburg reenactment.
Check out these interactive maps of World War I battlefields (including Ypres and Verdun).
There are a lot of… interesting student videos of "Grass" out there. We liked this one best (maybe it's the Star Wars geek in us).
Carl Reads "Grass"
Does his reading make you think differently about the poem?
The Man Himself
Here's Carl, just owning that hairdo.
Sandburg and Lincoln
Okay, this one cracks us up.
Sandburg's Radical Tendencies
Read all about 'em here.
Some English Profs Weigh In
Do you agree with what they've got to say about our man Carl?
Check out Sandburg's best work here.
Sandburg's Stories for Children
Read 'em to your little sisters and bros!
Check out the trailer here.