Thursday, June 16, 2011

Carl Sandburg: "Wilderness"

This is a very strange poem I just discovered. Perhaps it's strangeness is mostly because I didn't expect something like this from Carl Sandburg--which shows that forming expectations before I've read a considerable amount of a writer's work is risky. I think of Sandburg as being a poet of urban life, of industry, and of agriculture. This poem, I think, is quite different.


"There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes
. . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping
of blood--I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it
to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and
guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I
nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and
hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery
for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping
satisfied in the sun--I got this too from the wilderness and
the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-
gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew
waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before
the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before
the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-
faced . . . yawping a galoot's hunger . . . hairy under
the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men
. . . here are the blond and blue-eyed women . . . here
they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and
kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting--I keep
the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle
flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights
among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the
mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew
is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of
hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes
--And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my
bony head, under my red-valve heart--and I got something
else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart:
it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-
Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where--For I
am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and
kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the

I think I have to rethink my Sandburg.


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