Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Carl Sandburg: "From the Shore"

Here's one from Carl Sandburg that caught my eye as I was browsing through a collection of his poetry.

From the Shore

A lone grey bird,
Dim-dipping, far-flying,
Alone in the shadows and grandeurs and tumults
Of night and the sea
And the stars and storms.

Out over the darkness it wavers and hovers,
Out into the gloom it swings and batters,
Out into the wind and the rain and the vast,
Out into the pit of a great black world,
Where fogs are at battle, sky-driven, sea-blown,
Love of mist and rapture of flight,
Glories of chance and hazards of death
On its eager and palpitant wings.

Out into the deep of the great dark world,
Beyond the long borders where foam and drift
Of the sundering waves are lost and gone
On the tides that plunge and rear and  crumble.
-- Carl Sandburg --
The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg

I have always envied birds for they live in three dimensions while I'm trapped in two.  Yes, I know about airplanes, but I am a fearful-flyer, a control problem, I suspect.  But I never really considered very deeply just what it means to be able to fly and just what it is like, especially during those times when there are no soft winds and a blue sky and a safe landing below--at least, that is, until I read Sandburg's poem. 

The use of alliteration and the hyphenated adjectives reminds me of some Old English poems that I have read, Beowulf being one and others--"The Seafarer" for example.  This is a brief quotation and one appropriate I think:

All I ever heard along the ice-way
was sounding sea, the gannet's shanty
whooper and curlew calls and mewling gull
were all my gaming, mead and mirth
At tempest-tested granite crags
the ice-winged tern would taunt
spray-feathered ospreys overhead
would soar and scream.  .  .
 -- Anon  --
Online translation of "The Seafarer" by Charles Harrison-Wallace.

And, of course, there's always a haiku that strikes a similar note.

Grey marsh, black cloud.  .  .
Flapping away in autumn
Last old slow heron
-- Anon --
A Little Treasury of Haiku
Trans. Peter Beilenson

I read somewhere (wish I could remember who said this) that a poem should make you see something new or see something old in a new way.  I think Sandburg has succeeded here.

Has he succeeded with you?   


  1. Yes, the imagery is powerful and effective, and I can fly along with the bird(s), but I wonder if I would want to experience life as does this particular bird; perhaps the rain, wind, and colder weather (and other issues) here influence my reaction to the less than appealing scene(s) and mood of Sandburg's poem. I'm just not much of a Sandburg reader this afternoon. However, apropos of nothing special, I am off to the bookshelf for Frost's poem; "The Oven Bird" (?) just came to my mind, and I think that deserves a brief visit.

    1. R.T.,

      I also thought twice about the life of a seabird. Sandburg did an excellent job of presenting the other side of its life.

      Anything by Frost always deserves another visit, or so say I.

  2. Sandburg is one of my favorites and "From the Shore" - I've featured it on my blog too. Now I'll have to go find "The Oven Bird" because Frost is another favorite of mine.

    As for flying, a book I love and have read many times is Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

    1. madamevauquer,

      This is the first time I've seen this poem. I know little about Sandburg's poetry, so this surprised me. I didn't expect something like this from him. But, that's the mark of an excellent writer--the surprises.

  3. Fred, FYI, Robert Frost is featured today at Beyond Eastrod.

  4. Definitely yes, Fred. Thanks for this poem which, I think, is also about a stalwart kind of loneliness which ocean birds seem capable of bearing - a heroic bearing, maybe. Sometimes I wonder what these birds think about as they fly for I'm convinced it's not just blankness up there.

  5. Yvette,

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, heroic would be the word. I think that's why Sandburg cast it into the Old English style for I've read other OE poems (in translation, of course) that are similar--the hardships, the sense of being alone, the fortitude to go on, regardless of the problems. The hyphenated words really give it that flavor, at least to me anyway.

  6. I remember all those years ago driving over the bridge to Captree, Long Island -- the wind blowing hard, the Great South Bay whipped into a frenzy, and the car swaying left then right in the face of the wind. And there next and a little above me a seagull was flying into that wind and winning. Such power for a small beast. I have been captivated by seagulls ever since.

    Thanks for this.

    1. Shadow Flutter,

      They are marvelous creatures, aren't they? Some species go thousands of miles on their annual migrations--survival of the fittest at its most perceivable.