Here's a virtual movie of Americas great poet of the people Carl Sandburg the 20th century successor to Walt Whitman reading his beautiful sweet short and fatalistic poem "Cool Tombs" The poem could have easily have been called "Death The Leveler" because as with James Shirley's magnificent 16th century poem Cool Tombs reminds us that in death all are equal and a cool tomb quells all our mortal concerns.
At the time of his death in 1967, Carl Sandburg was a popular icon, portrayed in Time and Newsweek magazines as a troubadour of the common man. When his poetry was first published, however, both his style and choice of subject matter were highly controversial. He was criticized for his use of free verse, as well as for incorporating the language of everyday speech into his poems. His subjects, drawn from the rich panorama of American life, were considered vulgar and inappropriate for poetry. His admirers, on the other hand, praised these same qualities, comparing him to Walt Whitman, an earlier poet who aroused similar artistic controversy when his first volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass, was published in 1855.
“Cool Tombs” appeared in Carl Sandburg’s second collection of poetry, Cornhuskers, published in 1918. His first book, called Chicago Poems, had focused on city life and the people who worked there. This second volume portrayed different aspects of midwestern America: the land, the people, their values, and their dreams. This poem is part of a section called “Haunts,” an appropriate designation, for the lines have the lyrical, haunting quality of a requiem.
Like many of Sandburg’s poems, “Cool Tombs” combines details of history with events in the lives of the common man. The poem describes the equalizing role of death, where both the famous and infamous, the powerful and the ordinary individual, come to rest “in the cool tombs.” In the absence of an eternal system of reward and punishment, Sandburg requests that the reader examine the value of existence and reflect on the qualities that make life meaningful.
Carl Sandburg was born January 6, 1878, in Galesburg, Illinois. His father, an immigrant who could read the Bible in Swedish but was unable to sign his name in English, worked as a blacksmith for the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad. Growing up in Galesburg, Sandburg was very much aware of the importance of the Civil War, which had ended just thirteen years before he was born. His first history lessons came from the lives of the adults around him. Many of the men in town had fought in the war, and Sandburg was fascinated by their conversations that vividly recreated the recent past for him.
All rights are reserved on this video recording copyright Jim Clark 2013
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