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Studies of 



An Essays in Literature Book 


JohnE. HaRwas, an Associate Professor at Western Illinois University, has 
previously published on these writers; Dennis J. Reader, also an Associate 
Professor, is the Director of the Western Illinois University Center for 
Regional Authors, a special library collection that includes a wide variety of 
material by and about Lindsay, Masters, and Sandburg. 


Studies of 


An Essays in Literature Book 

Copyright © 1976 by Western Illinois University 
Cover photograph: Jeffrey T. Oldham 
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. : 76-4350 





The Garden of Illinois 

Vachel Lindsay: A Reappraisal 

John E. Haliwas, Dennis J. Reader 7 


Blair Whitney 17 

Dennis Q. Mclnemy 29 

Vachel Lindsay's American Mythocracy 
and Some Unpublished Sources 

Edgar Lee Masters: The Lawyer As Writer 

After Spoon River: Masters' Poetic 
Development 1916-1919 

The People, Yes: Sandburg's Dreambook 
for Today 

Sandburg's Chromatic Vision in 
Honey and Salt 

Sandburg and the Lincoln Biography: 
A Personal View 

Lindsay /Masters/Sandburg: 
Criticism from 1950-1975 

Notes on Contributors 

Marc Chenetier 42 

Charles E. Burgess 55 

Herb Russell 74 

Charles W. Mayer 82 

Richard Crowder 92 

Victor Hicken 105 

William White 114 


Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg came suddenly to 
national attention during the second decade of the century as they began to 
publish their mature poetry. The favorable response to poems placed in Poetry 
(by Lindsay and Sandburg) and Reedy 's Mirror (by Masters) soon led to the 
publication of four remarkable books in as many years. Lindsay's General 
William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems (1913) and The Congo and 
Other Poems (1914) brought to the public an idealistic— often visionary — sort 
of chant poetry which he called the Higher Vaudeville. Masters' Spoon River 
Anthology (1915) exposed the inner life of the American small town in free 
verse monologues that were, for this period, often devastatingly frank. And 
Sandburg's Chicago Poems (1916) expressed the brutality and raw energy of 
the big city in long, running free verse lines. These four volumes formed the 
poetic peak of what later came to be called the Chicago Renaissance. 

Unfortunately, these early books by the three poets created such an 
impression that they tended to overshadow later volumes and prevent an 
open-minded assessment of each poet's development. At Lindsay's famous 
poetry recitations the audiences clamored for readings of "General Booth" and 
"The Congo" until the very year of his death; Masters wrote several books of 
poetry soon after Spoon River Anthology but eventually had to publish The 
New Spoon River to bolster a sagging reputation; and Sandburg's later books 
of poetry never achieved the acclaim of Chicago Poems— his status as an 
American folk hero being largely the product of his Lincoln biography and his 
performances as a folksinger. As a result, such poetry volumes as Lindsay's 
Johnny Appleseed and Other Poems, Masters' Invisible Landscapes, and 
Sandburg's The People, Yes are less well-known than they might have been. 

A generation ago historian Walter Havighurst referred to Lindsay, 
Masters, and Sandburg as "The Prairie Poets," and although this label was 
simply intended to indicate their location in the American heartland, it has a 
more profound significance than he realized. Because they were raised on the 
prairies of west-central Illinois during the twilight of the pioneer period, these 
three writers share some very important influences: the midwestern 
landscape itself, the pioneer history of Illinois, the developing myth of 
Abraham Lincoln (later rejected by Masters), the democratic idealism of 
William Jennings Bryan, the social consciousness of Governor John Peter 
Altgeld, and the Mississippi River fiction of Mark Twain. Hence, the position 

- 7 - 


of these poets in the American literary tradition is not to be determined by 
their participation in the Chicago Renaissance— which at best refers only to 
their rejection of the genteel tradition of American poetry— but by their 
significance as a group of poets from the same region of the Midwest whose 
works are deeply penetrated by similar ideals and values. 

Taken together, the above influences made the poets expressive of the 
American heritage, and concerned about the development of American 
society. Hence, the following passage from Masters' "Give Us Back Our 
Country"— although it does not appear related to the "Mumbo-Jumbo" of the 
Higher Vaudeville poems, the revelations of the Spoon River epitaphs, or the 
brashness of the Chicago lyrics — effectively reveals the perspective that 
produced those works, and provides a keynote for the present collection of 

But let the vision of this land appear; 

Let duty to the heritage that is ours 

Come to the minds of leaders: then the people. 

Waiting like winter fields for April time. 

Will rise and shake their banners like the com. 

But overemphasis upon the famous early volumes of Lindsay, Masters, and 
Sandburg, by readers and critics alike— to the point of ignoring their poetic 
development and misjudging their significance — is not the only reason why 
they failed to become figures of lasting prominence in twentieth-century 
literature. Consider for a moment the transparent relationship of the three to 
Walt Whitman: Masters was his admiring biographer; Sandburg emulated his 
poetic line, language, and voice (that of the "en-masse"); Lindsay continued 
the hope of the poet as "divine literatus," the new reformer or secular priest. 
These close intellectual and emotional ties to Whitman, and hence to a remote 
era, suggest why today in this country there is a general sense that events, 
and certainly attitudes, have passed them by. 

As everyone recognizes, it is Missourian T. S. Eliot's wasteland and not 
Vachel Lindsay's golden Springfield that speaks most for twentieth -century 
America— and for twentieth-century American poetry in particular. Eliot 
recorded what he found in the new century while Lindsay quixotically sought 
to purify it. Like Whitman, if without his poetic genius, Lindsay was a public 
poet with a public program for social improvement, and his platform 
popularity, as Sandburg's, would have been envied by a Whitman who had 
always aspired to be an influential orator. Masters, as well, piles up the terms 
"vision" and "dream" and "light" so often in even Spoon River Anthology— a 
work usually regarded as a collection of complaints and cynicism — that he 
freely exposes his romantic, reformist, Whitmanesque heritage. 

In a real sense, the long foreground of the American wasteland — so 
antithetical to the American Edenic garden— was officially announced by the 
massive contradiction of a civil war within a democracy. Nothing could ever 
again seem quite new about the New World after that event, and as the virgin 
continent began rapidly to fill up with men and machines, the purest sources of 
our native mythic ideals remained trapped somewhere behind the taU fence of 
1861. After that year few serious American poets dared or desired to replace 
Whitman as celebrator of democracy's best potentials. This post-Civil War 


period was remarkable for its continual corruption, a time of excessive 
materialism (Mark Twain's famous phrase was "the gilded age") that stretched 
virtually unbroken until the great depression of the 1930's. The correlative 
literary movements that dominated these decades were "realism," which 
portrayed the improbability of heroic achievement, and "naturalism," which 
proclaimed free will as impossible in a world controlled by external forces. 

Among those few poets of substance who did desire to resurrect the 
American vision, most were born in what was still the nineteenth century — as 
were Masters, Sandburg, Lindsay, and Ohio-born Hart Crane. They included 
in their vision those mjrthic components recognizable from much earlier times, 
along with the attendant cultural heroes (who were also their own personal 
heroes): Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Whitman himself. The 
thematic thread runs, historically, from frontier self-reliance to democracy's 
radical individualism to the archetypal citizen in "Song of Myself' and finally to 
Lindsay's The Litany of Washington Street, Masters' The New World, and 
Sandburg's The People, Yes. In this mjrthic tradition America itself— the land 
itself— travels the long road from New World paradise to the Jeffersonian 
agrarian ideal, through the nostalgia of post-Civil War Local Color 
regionalism, and eventually to Sandburg's New Salem, Masters' beloved 
Spoon and Sangamon River valleys, and Lindsay's mid western New Localism. 
While such a pastoral ideal is axiomatically unfriendly to technology and 
material progress, Sandburg at least— like Whitman and Hart Crane- 
pointedly includes in his celebration the magnetism and gross power of urban 

Because they stand outside the main current of twentieth-century poetry, 
and relate to populist traditions rather than to personal and consciously 
intellectual values, these three authors are now relatively foreign to us. They 
have failed Whitman's own well-known measure of a poet's success, given at 
the end of his 1855 Preface: "The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him 
as affectionately as he has absorbed it." Quite apart from the merits of their 
art — which is various — these three writers have fallen from favor because the 
role of the public poet has fallen from fashion. 

But perhaps the cycle is slowly turning back; perhaps a new American 
conservation-consciousness can include preserving worthy traditions and 
ideals, can develop an awareness of "culture ecology" to parallel its awareness 
of ecology in nature. If so, these three writers may yet be praised for offering 
perspectives on the American landscape, character, and spirit that are 
essential to our self -understanding — our vision of this land. 

The following essays, written expressly for this volume, attempt to 
legitimatize Lindsay, Masters, and Sandburg by examining the motives and 
methods behind their achievements. The beginning point is, appropriately 
enough, the land, as Blair Whitney in "The Garden of Illinois" reminds us that 
all three writers worshipped at the shrine of the Soil, that most ancient of 
American mjdhic faiths. It is this premise — the physical presence of America, 
and the opportunities and options that it offers— which is the source of their 
best imagery, memories, and hopes. 


Vachel Lindsay's controversial career is given a contemporary review by 
Dennis Mclnerny in "Vachel Lindsay: A Reappraisal." He places the literary 
criticism of the past in perspective and then offers an evaluation of the poet 
that is seasoned by the passage of two generations. Marc Chenetier's "Vachel 
Lindsay's American Mythocracy and Some Unpublished Sources" demon- 
strates that, indeed, there are more sophisticated— and certainly more 
sympathetic— ways of comprehending Lindsay than as a chanting vaudevil- 
lian. In support of this, the essay provides a sampling from the extensive 
collections of unpublished manuscripts that exist around the nation. 

Two relatively unknown apsects of Edgar Lee Masters' life are explored by 
Charles Burgess and Herb Russell. "Edgar Lee Masters: The Lawyer as 
Writer" is a penetrating, comprehensive study of a complicated man and his 
interrelated careers. "After Spoon River: Masters' Poetic Development 
1916-1919" investigates the intriguing question of Masters' progress, and 
problems, as a writer immediately after his sensational rise to fame in 1915. 

Charles Mayer's thorough-going essay, "The People, Yes: Sandburg's 
Dreambook for Today" demonstrates that a poet's vision, or any honest 
affirmative view of life, is neither simply achieved nor easily maintained. 
Using a very different approach, "Sandburg's Chromatic Vision in Honey and 
Sait," by Richard Crowder, analyses the writer's final book and, in the 
process, sheds light on the entire Sandburg, old and young. And Victor 
Hicken, in "Sandburg and the Lincoln Biography: A Personal View," gives an 
historian's account of the legendary Sandburg and his equally legendary life of 

The volume closes with William White's checklist, "Lindsay/Masters/ 
Sandburg: Criticism from 1950-1975." It has a dual purpose: to present a 
useful, year-by-year listing of secondary materials, and to encourage further 
study of these three authors. 




Lindsay and his mother, 1920*s. 

(All materials on these pages reproduced by permission of the Western Illinois 
University Center for Regional Authors. ) 



LoJJliAft, ft| twitll^ 


<^ ^^ WA: 

^^y^ Y^AN (w>JL MM(\ /<w|. 

(M ms^ a^SL .Af\puj\i^ - 

A Lindsay book inscription. 





Oetobar 5tU 1928 
' ~l ..r... "^"•» "^- -^'- " """ ' "" " 

«„ ,M«.«.. I »•' •"" '•' "* ^. ^ „., .^. .» ««•'•- 

«ng. of bope and courage «»^ti« 

ever TOUT rriAii*# 


•hall rtoot th« „. 

Two Masters letters: (top) to Eva Wakefield, (bottom) a business proposal. 











.torch 1, 1927, 

Dear ^aael: 

I «rked hard op. dT °\*fi1tri you .» *"« Shelton 
coaldn't nske It go. ^ ,„„, yro i-Ul 

in Be. York. ««y/°*^- .^^ „ putting 1" »«"^y t^' , 
t, safe in aammlng "^at I am P ^^^^^ exeellent 

,b„le day •* ""nfi/lTe-VimU. fro. the Shelton. 
telephones; it is onxi^ 



I^ear Hazel: 

Flat Rock. n. c, 

April 6, 1956 

It is sorrow to hear ^^i, 

"quire, an operatloJ°\'^rlJ^lt:' T "^"^^ ^l^* 
removed and lay Ur three S In f ^^ ^ *"" fil»^ 
then however there wa, nL " darkness. Since 
ot the oo^ition thrrtherth^"^*=^^«''*«^t recurrence 
js hoping that .hervou^l '^f!**'^'^ business. Here 
have to cross an^^^Tllll'l.^^^ . '^"«« ^'^ "i^l not 

tl»e a^ Whether I-ca"sL°"'^r" "* i-^tl^^^^da^s ":?*•"' 
- - a P-Xe..!^.;ra:d"LT^ --- -^^^^^^^ 

Two Sandburg letters: (top) to Hazel Buchbinder, when both were working on 
The American Songbag, (bottom) to Hazel Buchbinder. 

The Garden of Illinois 


"God help us make each state an Eden-flower." (Vachel Lindsay, 
"Litany of the Heroes.") 

Three Illinois poets, Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl 
Sandburg, write of their native place as if it were an Eden. To them the 
prairies and small towns of central Illinois are places equal to man's "capacity 
for wonder," and their poems are often versions of the myth of America as 
Promised Land. In this Eden, natural beauty, human goodness, liberal politics, 
and the fine arts combine to fulfill America's best possibilities. Lindsay 
believes this ideal may be realized in the future, and he devotes much of his 
work to preaching a Gospel of Beauty that imagines it. Masters, on the other 
hand, writes of a former Paradise that has disappeared. Sandburg is neither as 
optimistic as Lindsay nor as pessimistic as Masters. His poems provide 
glimpses of the good life in the present. 

All three poets know the beauty of central Illinois. The landscape here is 
not spectacular— no mountains, waterfalls, or oceans— but gentle, peaceful 
(although powerful, like the sea), fertile, green. The prairies roll westward to 
the horizon like the long Whitmanesque lines of Sandburg's "Prairie." 

Have you seen a red sunset drip over one of my cornfields, the shore of night stars, 
the wave lines of dawn up a wheat valley? 

Have you heard my threshing crews yelling in the chaff of a strawpile and the 
running wheat of the wagonboards, my cornhuskers, my harvest hands 
hauling crops, singing dreams of women, worlds, horizons? ^ 

The powerful life force of these prairies, as well as their beauty, serves as 
solace to people and as a source of their strength. This is a theme in several 
poems by these three men. One of the epitaphs in Masters' New Spoon River is 
that of Angela Sanger, a woman whose strength returns in the spring. 

And what were last year's failures, frosts and worms? 
I would plant again for the joy of growing things; 
Fight for the corn of life, for the blossoms of beauty. 2 

In his biography of Lindsay, which reveals as much about Masters as it does 
about Lindsay, Masters imagines young Vachel out for a buggy ride with his 
father and being inspired to poetry by what he saw. 

- 17 - 


Though the buffalo grass was gone when the poet was a boy, there remained the 
white blossoms of the may-apple in the woods and the Indian turnips, the 
brown-eyed Susans and horse mint by the roadsides and the beautiful stretches of 
green meadows under Illinois skies as blue and enchanting in the June days as any 
in the world. -^ 

These prairies, however, are not merely picturesque and fertile. They are 
the true heartland of America, its vital center. "Heartland of America" is not a 
cliche to the three poets. They believe that the prairies of Illinois are invested 
with a special significance because of their location and history. Masters 
explains this in the opening pages of his Lindsay biography. La Salle saw this 
land; Marquette and Joliet canoed down its rivers; George Rogers Clark saved 
it in the Revolution. To these prairies. Masters writes, came men from 
Kentucky who brought with them the pioneer virtues and a rich store of 
folklore. Writing of the stories Lindsay might have read while he was growing 
up, Masters is really describing the stories he himself heard, for his native 
Petersburg is only a short distance from Lindsay's Springfield. 

And as the Kentucky stocks predominated here there was much talk of Daniel 
Boone, and the log-cabin joys of that land, and of the fiddlers and the dancers, the 
racehorses and the hospitalities, the bluegrass and the wooded hills, and the 
romance of the Ohio River in the days of flatboats and of the beginning of steam. 
If the poet had no classical education ... he was nevertheless blessed with the 
fresh and fragrant atmosphere of this rich localism.'* 

Sandburg also used much of this same mater al in his poetry, his prose, and his 
American Songbag. 

These strong-willed Kentuckians, according to Masters, "made a garden of 
Illinois and Indiana," but they did more than just turn the thick sod and clear 
the timber. They brought to Illinois the best American ideals and values. 
These virtues are summed up in Masters' poem "Lucinda Matlock," one of the 
most famous epitaphs in Spoon River Anthology. Lucinda Matlock and her 
husband Davis are portraits of Masters' own grandparents. Lucinda says of 
her life with Davis: 

We were married and lived together for seventy years. 

Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children. 

Eight of whom we lost 

Ere I had reached the age of sixty. 

I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick, 

I made the garden, and for holiday 

Rambled over the fields where sang the larks. 

And by Spoon River gathering many a shell. 

And many a flower and medicinal weed — 

Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys. 

At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all. 

And passed to a sweet repose.^ 

Masters also describes his grandparents in TTie Sangamon, a book that is 
full of his love for the prairie and its people. Davis and Lucinda Masters, he 
recalls, lived like Adam and Eve before the fall, and they, in turn, inspired 
their neighbors: 


they helped to make the other people like them, a people whose religious 
adorations were clear and sweet as the fields, and utterly alien to incense and 
ritual. The sky and the meadows inspired them with a goodness and worship so 
simple and beautiful that it hurts the heart to think it was ever lost.^ 

In his poem "Illinois Farmer," Sandburg expresses a similar admiration for 
this ideal man of the soil who experienced nature purely and directly. The old 
farmer dies and becomes a part of his farm. 

The wind he listened to in the comsilks and the tassels, the wind that combed 
his red beard zero mornings when the snow lay white on the yellow ears in 
the bushel basket at the comcrib. 

The same wind will now blow over the place where his hands must dream of 
Illinois corn. {CP, p. 88) 

This view of the Illinois farmer as Adamic child of nature is, of course, a 
literary invention, since the average Illinois farmer of Sandburg's time was a 
capitalist whose hands probably dreamed not of Illinois corn but of the steering 
wheel of his tractor. Yet this myth is one of the most powerful in American 
intellectual and literary history, finding believers from Hector St. Jean de 
Cr^vecoeur and Thomas Jefferson to the intellectual farmers of today's rural 

Masters believes that the day of the pioneer farmer is over, that the 
present generation is no longer capable of living a true, free life, close to the 
soil, out in the clear, fresh air. Lucinda Matlock assails her effete children: 

What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness, 

Anger, discontent and drooping hopes? 

Degenerate sons and daughters, 

Life is too strong for you — 

It takes life to love Life. (SR, p. 230) 

Lindsay, however, still believed in the possibility of a Jeffersonian agrarian 
ideal. In "The Virginians Are Coming Again," he imagines a new generation of 
long-legged pioneers that will replace the degenerate Babbitts of the 1920's. 
These Virginians are true Americans who have absorbed the wisdom of 
Washington, Jefferson, and (an aboriginal American) Powhatan and will bring 
back "the old grand manner" of the pioneers. Masters looks backward, 
Lindsay forward. Sandburg sees in present-day Americans a strength born of 
the land. In "I Am the People, the Mob," he writes, 

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible 
storms pass over me. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes 
me work and give up what I have. And I forget. . . . 

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of 
yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for 
a fool — then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: "The 
People," with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision. 
(CP, p. 71) 

When pioneers build towns in the garden of Illinois, their vision is still 
agrarian. In Masters' Petersburg and Lewistown, Lindsay's Springfield, and 
Sandburg's Galesburg, the corn fields came right up to the city limits and, 


even after a century of growth, still do. Masters describes the process of 
building the ideal village in "New Salem Hill," a lesser known poem from his 
collection Invisible Landscapes. New Salem, Lincoln's village, is only two miles 
from Petersburg. Masters begins the poem by praising the founders of this 
little town. They were the "flower of Virginia," "earth people, original and 
free." These pioneers founded their log cabin settlement on the true "faith 
American" of independence, hard work (in the soil), and simple pleasures. 

Here on this Hill to blossom burst 
A life all new, all pure American. 
In western soil this seed of our loveliest flower, 
' Grown in Virginia first, 
And on this Hill re-sown, produced the men , 

Made altogether of our original earth. 
Being close to a soil whose power 
Fed their diverging veins. ^ 

Now, Masters writes. New Salem has vanished, and with it vanished the ideal 
of its founders. 

It faded with New Salem Town. 

This Bethlehem of America, this shrine 

Of a vision vanished, a people passed away. 

Is loved because America here beholds 

With adoration a freedom and a day 

Which dawned and perished when it made the sign 

Of what the land should be, and by what moulds 

Its spirit needed fashioning. 

Vachel Lindsay is more optimistic. He believes that the American, or 
Jeffersonian, or Virginian Ideal is not lost. In three poems grouped under the 
title "The Gospel of Beauty," Lindsay develops what he calls "my theory of 
American civilization." The first poem, "The Proud Farmer," is written in 
memory of his grandfather, just as Masters wrote the Matlock poems in praise 
of his grandparents. Lindsay's farmer is a kind of American knight, "a 
democrat well-nigh a king." His spirit is still present in the Illinois small town 
described in the second section of "The Gospel of Beauty." Those who, like 
Masters, regret the passing of the democratic ideal should instead 

Turn to the little prairie towns. 
Your higher hope shall yet begin. 
On every side await you there 
Some gate where glory enters in.l^ 

Finally, in the third poem, entitled "On the Building of Springfield," Lindsay 
imagines the full flowering of his democratic, agrarian ideal in his own 


Some city on the breast of Illinois 

No wiser and no better at the start 

By faith shall rise redeemed, by faith shall rise 

Bearing the western glory in her heart. 

The genius of the Maple, Elm and Oak, 

The secret hidden in each grain of com, 

The glory that prairie angels sing 

At night when sons of Life and Love are bom. {CP, p. 75) 

Thus the Illinois small town is a "Bethlehem" with "prairie angels." Lindsay 
was an enthusiastic, albeit unorthodox, Christian who dreamed of redeeming 
the world with his Gospel of Beauty. H 

Although Sandburg was more realistic about his hometown, in his 
autobiography Always the Young Strangers, he writes, "this small town of 
Galesburg, as I look back at it, was a piece of the American Republic. Breeds 
and blood strains that fig^ure in history were there for me, as a boy, to see and 
hear in their faces and their ways of talking and acting."12 Galesburg, like the 
small towns of Lindsay and Masters, had been settled by pioneers and still 
retained the pioneer spirit, in spite of its large immigrant population. 
Sandburg's Chicago, on the other hand, is the modern, energetic, exciting, 
violent city that retains no trace of the Jeffersonian ideal. 

Out of the prairie towns, out of the frontier came Abraham Lincoln. To 
Lindsay, Sandburg, and (in his early poems) Masters, Lincoln represents all 
their ideals made flesh. He is the historical proof of their thesis, the rich 
harvest of the garden of Illinois. In his Spoon River poem on William H. 
Herndon, Masters has Lincoln's law partner and biographer remember the 
man and what he represented. 

And I saw a man arise from the soil like a fabled giant. 
And throw himself over a deathless destiny, 
Master of great armies, head of the republic, 
Bringing together into a dithyramb of recreative song 
The epic hopes of a people. . . . {SR, p. 223) 

Sandburg's multi-volume biography is probably his best-known work, and 
he also wrote a number of poems on the meaning of Lincoln's life and work. In 
"Fire-Logs," Lincoln's prospective mother dreams of the special event, almost 
like the birth of a messiah. 

Oh, dream, Nancy. 
Time now for a beautiful child. 
Time now for a tall man to come. (CP, p. 102) 

In the section on Lincoln in The People, Yes, Sandburg tries to assess his 
greatness, using a series of quotations from his speeches. In this poem, Lincoln 
is a poet, an historian, a dreamer who could "gather/ the feel of the American 
dream/ and see its kindred over the earth" (CP, p. 523). Above all, he is of the 
people. In "The Long Shadow of Lincoln," Sandburg preaches a verse sermon 
on Lincoln's meaning to his country. The poem concludes with this stanza, 
which uses the familiar prairie language of earth, sun, and harvest: 


The earth laughs, the sun laughs 
over every wise harvest of man, 
over man looking toward peace 
by the light of the hard old teaching: 

"We must disenthrall ourselves." (CP, p. 637) 

Lindsay's Lincoln is also a suffering humanitarian. He imagines him come 
back to life, walking the streets of Springfield during World War L "The 
prairie-lawyer, master of us all" cannot sleep because of the war. "Too many 
peasants fight, they know not why,/ Too many homesteads in black terror 
weep." Lincoln, the idealist, waits for a "spirit-dawn" that will bring peace, 
justice, and equality to "Cornland, Alp, and Sea" (CP, p. 54). In other poems 
and in his prose, Lindf^ay longs for a gener Hion of "Lincoln- hearted men" to 
create a Utopia in Spri'^gfield, Illinois by f< 'owing Lincoln's example. 

The Lincoln of Lino ay, Sandburg, and dsters is not a real person. Even 
in his highly-praised biography, Sandburg romanticizes history, uncritically 
accepting the imaginary Ann Rutledge story, for example, just as Masters did. 
The three poets create a mjdhical Lincoln, larger than life, although such 
exaggerations are not really necessary. The actual, historical Lincoln did 
represent the best qualities of American civilization. That the Illinois village 
produced Abraham Lincoln is proof that the idealistic conceptions of these 
poets did have, at least at one time, some basis in fact. 

But as New Salem Village sank into oblivion, serpents of several varieties 
crept into the garden f Illinois and poise i the minds of Lincoln-hearted 
men. Carl Sandburg dramatizes this corr ption in the poem "Knucks." In 
Lincoln's Springfield, the poet sees a pair ui brass knuckles in the window of 
Fischman's second-hand store. Fischman, he learns, sells "a carload a month." 
The poet understands what hypocrisy this represents. 

Mister Fischman is for Abe and the "malice to none" stuff. 

And the street car strikers and the strike-breakers, 

And the sluggers, gunmen, detectives, policemen, 

Judges, utility heads, newspapers, priests, la/yers. 

They are all for Abe and the "malice to none" stuff. (CP, p. 122) 

Sandburg develops a similar theme in The People, Yes, the same poem in 
which he writes about what Lincoln means to America. Here again, Springfield 
has forgotten Lincoln's message. 

In a winter sunset near Springfield, Illinois 

In the coming of a winter glooming, 

A Negro miner with headlamps and dinner bucket, 

A black man explained how it happens 

In some of the mines only white men are hired. 

Only white men can dig out the coal. {CP, p. 537) 

Those who have corrupted the garden of Illinois come mostly from the 
East, especially from New England. These children of the Puritans lack the 
natural vigor and rich understanding of Virginians and Kentuckians. Instead 
their only interest is money. Wealth does not come from the soil, these men 
believe. It comes from factories, mills, banks, railroads, and coal mines ripped 


out of the garden. Swollen by financial and industrial power, the village ruled 
by farmers becomes the city ruled by lawyers. Honesty, humility, and charity 
are replaced by duplicity, greed, and hypocrisy. In The People, Yes, Sandburg 
assails the money power. Although money cannot buy "love, personality, 
freedom, immortality, silence, peace," nevertheless to gain it men "steal, kill, 
swindle, walk as hypocrites and whited sepulchers." Whole nations are 
corrupted and wage wars for it, "truckloads of amputated arms and legs are 
hauled away" (CP, p. 543). 

The best poetic treatment of this theme is Lindsay's "Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, 
Bryan" (CP, pp. 96-105) written in 1919 when Lindsay was at the height of his 
poetic power and still optimistic about the future. In this poem, he describes 
Bryan's visit to Springfield during the 1896 campaign. Lindsay, Sandburg, and 
Masters all admired Bryan— at least until he turned "down and theological," as 
Masters put it — because Bryan was one of them, born in Illinois, a son of the 
prairie, a fighter for the poor farmer, an enemy of the moneyed East. He was a 
Lincoln-hearted man who if elected might restore the old pioneer spirit. Also, 
he was young, vigorous, and a mighty orator in the best American tradition. 
All of Lindsay's idealistic notions and all his hopes for the future are expressed 
in "Bryan" in a joyous, extravagant lyricism that gives the poem life long after 
Bryan's death. This excellent poem presents both the dream of an American 
garden on the prairie and the reasons why that dream is unrealistic, perhaps 
even foolish, yet still wonderful. 

Lindsay imagines himself as a sixteen-year-old caught up the excitement of 
the campaign. Bryan comes to Springfield and is introduced to the crowd by 
John Peter Altgeld, the liberal governor who was himself much admired by all 
three poets. Bryan, however, is more than just the Populist-Democratic 
candidate against the hated Republican McKinley. Lindsay makes him a hero 
of mjdhic proportions in this wonderful stanza: 

I brag and chant of Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, 

Candidate for president who sketched a silver Zion, 

The one American Poet who could sing outdoors, 

He brought in tides of wonder, of unprecedented splendor. 

Wild roses from the plains that made hearts tender. 

All the funny circus silks 

Of politics unfurled, 

Bartlett pears of romance that were honey at the cores. 

And torchlights down the street, to the end of the world. 

Appropriately, the Western hero is accompanied by a retinue of Western 
beasts, some real, some invented. 

Oh, the longhorns from Texas, 

The jay hawks from Kansas, 

The plop-eyed bungaroo and giant giassicus, 

The varmit, chipmunk, brigaboo. 

The horned-toad, prairie-dog and ballyhoo. . . . 

Bryan is the champion of "prairie-schooner children" who charges in "smashing 
Plymouth Rock with his boulders from the West." 

The sixteen-year-old and his pals are "fairy Democrats" in a Republican 
town. His girl wears "a brave prairie rose" even though her "gold chums" 


reject her for refusing to wear the Eastern Gibson Girl fashion. To young 
Lindsay, Bryan represents all his hopes and dreams, but these dreams are 
destroyed by McKinley and Mark Hanna, the money men. When Bryan loses, 
more than the election is lost. 

Election night at midnight: 

Boy Bryan's defeat. 

Defeat of western silver. 

Defeat of the wheat. 

Victory of letterfiles 

And plutocrats in miles 

With dollar signs upon their coats, 

Diamond watchchains on their vests 

And spats on their feet. 

Victory of custodians. 

Plymouth Rock, 

And all that inbred landlord stock. 

In a futile attempt to stave off such defeats, all three poets were active in a 
variety of liberal, even radical causes. Sandburg was an organizer for the 
Social-Democratic party in Wisconsin. Masters, a lawyer, was an active 
Populist and president of the Jefferson Club of Chicago, an organization of 
Bryan supporters. Lindsay spoke often for various civic improvements in 
Springfield, lectured on Temperance, preached his Gospel of Beauty, and 
voted with the Left, for reasons he explains in his poem, "Why I Voted the 
Socialist Ticket." "I am unjust," he wrote, "but I can strive for justice" {CP, p. 

In spite of Bryan and the Populists, in spite of Debs and the Socialists, the 
serpents prospered, living off the rich harvest of the garden. The slimiest 
worms are the lawyers, who earn especially bitter criticism from Sandburg 
and Masters. Sandburg's poem "The Lawyers Know Too Much" reads like the 
work of a socialist organizer. 

The work of a bricklayer goes to the blue. 
The knack of a mason outlasts a moon. 
The hands of a plasterer hold a room together. 
The land of a farmer wishes him back again. 

Singers of songs and dreamers of plays 

Build a house no wind blows over. 
The lawyers — tell me why a hearse horse 

snickers hauling a lawyer's bones. {CP, p. 189) 

A voice on the subway in The People, Yes speaks the popular wisdom, "The 
Constitution tells how the government runs. It is a paper in Washington for 
the lawyers" (CP, p. 531). One of the bitterest epitaphs in Spoon River 
Anthology is that of John M. Church, a lawyer for the Chicago, Burlington, 
and Quincy Railroad and also for a company that insured the greedy and 
negligent owners of a coal mine. Church confesses, 

I pulled the wires with judge and jury, 
And the upper courts, to beat the claims 
Of the crippled, the widow and orphan. 
And made a fortune thereat. 
The bar association sang my praises 
In a high-flown resolution. 


And the floral tributes were many — 

But the rats devoured my heart 

And a snake made a nest in my skull! {SR, p. 85) 

Even more serious than the growth of industriahsm and the supremacy of 
Eastern financial power over Western farmers was the threat of war. All three 
poets were opposed, in varying degrees, to World War I— Sandburg ultimate- 
ly decided that America's entry was necessary— and all wrote anti-war poems. 
They agreed with young critic Randolph Bourne's statement, "The war— or 
American promise: one must choose. One cannot be interested in both. "14 
World War I was the fault of corrupt European princes; it was completely 
foreign to America's ideals. Masters believed that America's entry meant the 
end of the pioneer, Jeffersonian spirit in this country. The change had begun 
with the imperialistic Spanish-American War. There had been a brief period of 
hope just before 1914, but now that "happy day" was over.^ Sandburg's 
opposition is expressed in several bitter early poems. "A Million Young 
Workmen, 1915" is a good example. 

A million young workmen straight and strong lay stiff on the grass and roads. . . . 
The kings are grinning, the kaiser and the czar — they are alive riding in 

leather-seated motor cars, and they have their women and roses for ease, 

and they eat fresh poached eggs for breakfast, new butter on toast, sitting 

in tall water-tight houses reading the news of war. 
I dreamed a million ghosts of the young workmen rose in their sheets all soaked 

in crimson . . . and yelled: 
God damn the grinning kings, God damn the kaiser and the czar. (CP, p. 141) 

These three Populist poets were also deeply concerned about abuses of the 
factory system. As a socialist should, Sandburg wrote about the exploitation of 
workers. In "The Mayor of Gary," a typically ironic poem, Sandburg 
introduces His Honor: 

And he wore cool cream pants, the Mayor of Gary, and white shoes, and a 
barber had fixed him up with a shampoo and a shave and he was easy and 
imperturbable though the government weather bureau thermometers said 96 
and children were soaking their heads at bubbling fountains on street comers. 
(CP, p. 161) 

The mayor believes that the twelve-hour day and the seven-day week are not 
unjust because workers steal time on the job. But, Sandburg writes: 

... I saw workmen wearing leather shoes scuffed with fire and cinders, 

and pitted with little holes from running molten steel. 
And some had bunches of speci lized muscles around their shoulder blades 

hard as pig iron, muscles of tincir forearms were sheet steel and they looked 

to me like men who had been somewhere. (CP, p. 161) 

Masters, always an enemy of the Puritan ethic, writes an epitaph for the 
owner of a canning factory who made a success through "thrift, industry, 
courage, honesty." Although Willis Beggs was himself a good person, he lived 
an empty life and did his country a disservice. 


And all the while I could look out a window 
Upon an America perishing for life, 
Never to be attained 
By thrift, industry and courage 
Dedicated to the canning works! ^^ 

Lindsay's position on industrialism is perhaps the most extreme. Although he 
admired the products of an industrial age, and although he believed in 
progress, in "Factory Windows Are Always Broken," he is a neo-Luddite. 

Factory windows are always broken. 
Other windows are let alone. 
No one throws through the chapel window 
The bitter, snarling, derisive stone. 

Factory windows are always broken. 
Something or other is going wrong. 
Something is rotten— I think, in Denmark. 
End of the factory-window song. (CP, p. 266) 

As they watched the machine dig deeper into their rich prairie soil with 
each year, as they saw their idealistic dreams for a Jeffersonian America 
disappear along with the Populist party and the Illinois village, Lindsay and 
Masters grew increasingly bitter and strident in their attacks on the enemy. 
Although in his public appearances Lindsay kept on reciting his optimistic 
poems, and although he preached his old fashioned Gospel of Beauty to the 
generation of flivvers and flaming yoi th, he worried about his fading 
popularity. His Utopian books and magazii ,es did not sell well, and by 1931 he 
was virtually bankrupt. The world did lot live up to his vision of it. On 
December 5, 1931 he committed suicide by drinking a bottle of Lysol. His last 
words reportedly were "They tried to gei me; I got them first." 

Masters discusses the reasons for this suicide at length in his biography of 
Lindsay. Lindsay, he writes, was done in by aU the forces they both railed 
against in their poetry. First of all, the East was now triumphant. 
"Centralization in government has placed all political power in Washington, 
and all money power in New York."!^ This money power also controls the 
publishing industry. Like Spiro Agnew, Masters believes in an Eastern 
Establishment Media Conspiracy. "Tammany," he claims, "captured the 
political machine of poetry." William Marion Reedy of St. Louis, Masters' first 
editor, could have prevented "the strangulation of Lindsay," but Reedy died in 
1920. Reedy, a champion of the West in literature, had been listened to in New 
York, but now, in 1935, the native American tradition in poetry is doomed. 
The genteel tradition has triumphed again and magazine editors have gone 
back "to the English tradition of Browning and Tennyson." These statements 
are dubious (Masters seems totally ignorant of William Carlos Williams, whose 
poetry refutes his charges), but Masters believed them. 

Masters' bitterness at the failure of his hopes for a Jeffersonian America 
led him to commit the ultimate apostasy— he turned against Lincoln. Because 
Lincoln led the industrial North to victory over the agrarian South, Masters 
came to believe that Lincoln had been a spokesman for Eastern industrialism. 
Why then did Masters' friend Lindsay, who also hated the Eastern money 
power, admire Lincoln? Masters explains in his biography that "Lindsay's 


idolatry of Lincoln was based upon the misconception that Lincoln was of the 
pioneer spirit." In "New Salem Hill," written the same year as the Lindsay 
biography, Masters writes that New Salem is not famous because Lincoln 
grew up there — instead, the reverse is true. People admire Lincoln because he 
came from New Salem. By growing up in frontier Illinois, Lincoln acquired a 
thin veneer of the pioneer virtues, which makes people confuse him with true 
pioneers and true Americans like Thomas Jefferson and William Jennings 

Carl Sandburg did not commit suicide, nor did he grow bitter and hateful. 
Perhaps because he was always more realistic than either Masters or Lindsay, 
perhaps simply because he became a success, the friend of movie stars and 
presidents, Sandburg retained his faith in America. Although he campaigned 
against the abuses of industrialism, he found among steelworkers and office 
girls people to be cherished like the dead pioneers of Spoon River Anthology. 
The son of Swedish immigrants, Sandburg also enjoyed and celebrated this 
country's new ethnic diversity. In his last years, living in rural semi- simplicity 
on his goat farm in North Carolina, Sandburg became an elder statesmen and 
in that role was often asked his opinion of the nation's future. He always 
replied optimistically. After his death. President Lyndon Johnson called him 
"the bard of democracy" who "gave us the truest and most enduring vision of 
our greatness." 

Masters, Sandburg, and Lindsay imagined the garden of Illinois as a place 
where America's promises might be fulfilled. In this garden, men and women 
could live the good life in beautiful surroundings. Whether such an Eden really 
existed on New Salem Hill in the 1830's or whether it could have been 
established in Springfield, Galesburg, Petersburg, or Chicago just before 
World War I is not important now. What is important are the poems in which 
the ideals of the poets are made real. 


Carl Sandburg, Complete Poems (New York: Harcourt, 1950), p. 80. All quotations 
from Sandburg's poems are from this edition and will be cited in the text as CP. 

Edgar Lee Masters, The New Spoon River (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1924), 
p. 231. 

■^ Edgar Lee Masters, Vac hel Lindsay: A Poet in America (New York: Scribners, 1935), 
p. 4. 

'^ Ibid., p. 3. 

5 Ibid., p. 5. 

Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology (New York: Macmillan, 1944), p. 229. All 
quotations from this edition will be cited as SR in the text. 

Edgar Lee Masters, The Sangamon (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1941), p. 30. 
" Vachel Lindsay, Selected Poems of Vachel Lindsay , ed. Hazelton Spencer (New York: 
Macmillan, 1931), pp. 83-86. 

Edgar Lee Masters, Invisible Landscapes (New York: Macmillan, 1935), p. 28. 

*^ Vachel Lindsay, Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1925), p. 72. All further 
quotations from this edition will be cited in the text as CP. 


' ^ For a discussion of Lindsay's religion see Ann Massa, Vachel Lindsay: Fieldworker for 
the American Dream (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 49-73. 

'^ Carl Sandburg, Always the Young Strangers (New York: Harcourt, 1953), p. 280. 

'•^ For a detailed discussion of their politics, see Michael Yatron, America's Literary 
Revolt (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959). 

' Randolph Bourne, "A War Diary," in War and the Intellectuals: Essays by Randolph 
S. Bourne, 1915-1919, ed. Carl Resek (New York: Harper, 1964), p. 46. 

'^ Edgar Lee Masters, Across Spoon River (1936; rpt. New York: Octagon, 1969), 
p. 381. 

Masters, New Spoon River, p. 31. 
Masters, Vachel Lindsay, p. 361. 

1^ Ibid., p. 366 ff. 

'^ Masters, Vachel Lindsay, p. 368. For a further discussion of Masters' hatred of 
Lincoln see Yatron, America's Literary Revolt, pp. 28-30. 

^^ "Carl Sandburg, Poet and Biographer of Lincoln, Dies in South at 89," New York 
Times, 23 July 1967, p. 62. 

Vachel Lindsay: A Reappraisal 


It is difficult to be certain about such things, but my guess is that Vachel 
Lindsay is not read very much todiy. I would presume that most of his mature 
readers are college students, and they are most probably exposed to him in the 
small doses that survey courses provide. But even then they may not be 
getting more than a glimpse of the man, and that a distorted one. Such would 
be the case, for example, should they be enrolled in a course which is using a 
book called American Literature: The Makers and the Making, edited by three 
of the most distinguished contemporary practitioners of American criticism, 
Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, and R. W. B. Lewis. This is in many 
ways an excellent work, but in treating Lindsay it does him two disservices. 
First, it takes the easy road of puolishing three of his most well-known rather 
than three of his best poems. Second— perhaps the unforgivable sin of 
anthologizing — the three poems, none unduly long, are printed only in part 
("General William Booth Enters into Heaven," "The Congo," and "Bryan, 
Bryan, Bryan, Bryan"). This kind of treatment seems to corroborate Peter 
Viereck's claim that for the most part Lindsay has been dealt with by the 
literary establishment in a decidedly patronizing manner. Yet I cite this 
particular anthology not because it is out of the way, but because it is typical. 
When literary historians and critics are not flatly antagonistic toward Lindsay 
they seem mostly baffled by him. I think there is an explanation for this. 
Lindsay's militant, unself-conscious exuberance, the at times crude reckless- 
ness of his poetic expression, grates upon ears which have been trained to 
accept as "modern" poetry only the low-toned, carefully controlled cadences 
and/or sober intellectualism of poets like Frost, Eliot, and Stevens. And the 
tone of his poems disturbs us. We have come so to identify the ironic voice with 
the poetic voice that we are not prepared to accept as genuine a poet who is, 
for the most part, unabashedly lacking in irony. We doubt the sincerity of a 
poet who makes a deliberate point of wearing his sincerity on his sleeve. 

It should come as no surprise to us that critics differ over the quality of 
Lindsay's poetry; the surprise wtuld be if it were otherwise. But it is worth 
more than a passing comment that there is disagreement among critics 
concerning the presence or absence in Lindsay of certain fundamental traits, 
the kind over which one would not think there would be much room for 
dispute. Different critics are reading him in radically different ways, to the 



point where one is tempted to wonder just how many Vachel Lindsays there 
are. Thus, one critic will insist that Lindsay's optimism "was exactly the same 
brand as Emerson's and Whitman's," while another works under the 
assumption that Lindsay is not an optimist at all but rather a "pessimistic 
realist." One critic confidently asserts that Lindsay's sense of humor is the 
factor that will ultimately insure his artistic salvation; another states 
matter-of-factly that Lindsay was bereft of a sense of humor. For several 
critics imagination was a gift Lindsay possessed in abundance; there is at least 
one dissenting voice, however, which says that it was precisely a lack of 
imagination which rendered Lindsay's poetry essentially spiritless. 

The critical response to Lindsay's poetry was mixed right from the 
beginning. There was no dearth of people who had praise for him, some of it 
very high. Floyd Dell, the associate literary editor of the Chicago Evening 
Post, was one of the first to recognize Lindsay's talent. Reviewing The 
Tramp's Excuse in 1909 he said that "Nicholas Vachel Lindsay is something of 
an artist; after a fashion, a socialist; more certainly, a religious mystic; and for 
present purposes it must be added that he is indubitably a poet!" Harriet 
Monroe, who had a knack for recognizing good poets which bordered on 
genius, and who is sometimes looked upon as the "discoverer" of Lindsay, saw 
him as a "modern knight-errant" and asserted that he was "perhaps the most 
gifted poet we ever printed." She is referring, of course, to his appearances in 
Poetry magazine. "General William Booth Fnters into Heaven" was published 
in the December, 1913 issue of Poetry, and there is no doubt some basis for 
regarding Miss Monroe as Lindsay's "ciscoverer"; certainly, his rapid 
emergence as a national figure can be conveniently dated from that year. 
However, to keep the record straight, we should be aware, as some have 
already pointed out, that Lindsay and his subsequent fame probably did as 
much, if not more, for Poetry as Poetry had done for him. With Lindsay on 
stage the New Poetry Movement was launched. The crimping respectability, 
not to say debilitating torpor, that had settled upon American poetry since the 
death of Walt Whitman was suddenly and dramatically dissipated. Though he 
differed from them in many important ways, it was Lindsay, by his simple 
not-to-be-ignored presence, who woke up the country to the new possibilities 
for poetry and paved the way for the acceptance of poets like Robinson, Frost, 
Eliot, Masters, and, yes, Ezra Pound. In a word, he ushered in 20th-century 
American poetry. 

Lindsay's fellow lUinoian Edgar Lee Masters thought of him as a genuine, 
even superior poet. While freely admitting Lindsay's limitations, he saw in 
certain of his works unmistakable genius. Herbert S. Gorman, in a low-toned 
but favorable essay published in 1924, offered the opinion — not in currency at 
the time— that the "real" poet was the "quiet lyricist" and not the evangelistic, 
floor- stomping exhorter; he concluded that Lindsay, "when he is at his best, is 
art." I will want to return to Gorman's judgment, for it has much to 
commend it. No less a giant than William Butler Yeats had public praise for 
"General Booth," observing that it has "an earnest simplicity, a strange 
beauty." When Lindsay visited England in 1920, where among other things 
he read at Oxford at the invitation of Robert Graves, it was said of him by the 
Observer that "he is easily the most important living American poet. "12 For 



John Masefield he was simply "the best American poet. In 1931 Professor 
William Lyon Phelps of Yale University announced what he considered to be 
America's five great living poets. They were Stephen Vincent Benet, Robert 
Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edwin Arlington 
Robinson. The following year Hazelton Spencer declared in a eulogistic essay 
that Lindsay was the country's "chief poetical interpreter since Whitman." 

There was a group of critics who had unqualified admiration for what 
Lindsay represented for them as a humanist, pre-eminent concerned citizen, 
and enthusiastic advocate of art; but they were obviously troubled by his 
poetry. In other words, they liked what he stood for as a totally dedicated 
disciple of Beauty more than what he had produced as a poet. Marianne Moore 
was of this mind, and so were people like W. R, Moses and Austin Warren. 
Moses and Warren suggested that Lindsay's poetry would have been better 
had he concentrated more of his attention on it and less on the array of eclectic 
philosophical-social concerns with which he constantly busied himself. 

For those critics who were convinced that the wide-spread excitement 
generated by Lindsay's poetry was unjustified, there was a marked lack of 
ambivalence in their assessments of him. Ezra Pound, for whom Lindsay was 
"the plain man in gum overshoes" with "a touching belief in W. J. Bryan," 
made it clear what he thought about the quality of Lindsay's poetry when he 
said, in 1915, that "one can write it by the hour as fast as one scribbles." If 
that was a bit on the cruel side, Conrad Aiken succeeded in being downright 
brutal. William Butler Yeats may have seen something to praise in "General 
Booth"; to Aiken it was "one of the most curiously over-estimated of 
contemporary poems . , . thin and trivial." And as for Lindsay's poetry as a 
whole, Aiken concluded that it was "imageless, its ideas childish; and as verse 
it is extraordinarily amateurish. One reads it, ultimately, only because Mr. 
Lindsay has a reputation, and because in queer corners he still has an 
influence. And one foresees no future for it whatever." After an onslaught 
like that, coming from a distinguished poet, one might feel that the last and 
damning word had been said. But others viewed him more moderately and 
presented more balanced accounts. Professor John T. Flanagan recognized 
several commendable qualities in Lindsay, but in the end felt that his poems 
"linger in the memory because of their stridency." Carl Van Doren and 
Henry Seidel Canby are generally kind but they cannot bring themselves to 
admit that Lindsay is a first-rate poet. Van Doren felt that Lindsay rejoices "in 
more things than his imagination can assimilate," and that is because his 
"poetical range is not very great." And Canby: "His vein was rich, but 

From the samplings I have provided here one might conclude that the 
critical assessments of Lindsay are pretty much evenly divided. They are 
certainly divided, but not evenly. My impression of the criticism is that the 
balance is clearly tipped against Lindsay. Worth special note, I think, is the 
fact that no responsible critic praises Lindsay without reservation, including 
those who are generally in favor of him. Even when they are trying to be as 
forthrightly positive as they possibly can the little qualifiers creep in. The 
most loyal of his backers, among whom Harriet Monroe can be cited, display a 
hesitancy, a track-covering caution, when they set Lindsay apart for special 


praise. They choose their words judiciously; we do not hear from them the 
unstudied outpourings of the devotee. The explanation for this goes beyond 
the fact that critics are conservative by the very nature of their business. The 
critics did not totally believe in Lindsay because they were never quite sure 
what they were dealing with in him. He remained an unknown quantity, even 
for those who claimed they understood him. The critical picture of Lindsay, 
then, is more negative than positive. Ann Massa overstates the case, but she 
at least puts emphasis where it belongs when she says that "for the most part 
Lindsay was assessed with vitriolic condescension. "21 

In the face of a consensus weighed against Lindsay, there is the temptation 
to succumb and, uncritically, conclude that he was little more than an 
aberration, one of those erratic and finally inconsequential meteorites which 
flash across the literary sky and disintegrate when they hit the rough 
atmosphere of criticism. That would be wrong, for Lindsay — flashy though he 
was— was not just an embarrassing mistake for which students of American 
literature must feel bound to apologize. There is another temptation, however, 
of the opposite kind: to assume that the fault-finding critics are in every 
respect wrong and to set out on a quixotic adventure to prove that Vachel 
Lindsay has been grossly underrated, that he was in fact one of the great poets 
of the 20th century. Vachel Lindsay was not one of the great poets of the 20th 
century. Neither, on the other hand, was he the failure as a poet that Conrad 
Aiken would lead us to believe. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in 


Vachel Lindsay's main problem as a poet, and as a writer in general, lay in 
the fact that for all his dedication to art as an abstraction, he was himself not 
enough the artist; he did not take poetic craftsmanship with the kind of 
seriousness which manifests itself in rigorous self-discipline. I have already 
alluded to the fact that several critics, recognizing this in Lindsay, explained 
it, in part at least, as the result of his spreading himself too thin. Marianne 
Moore deplored his lack of aesthetic rigor. Babette Deutsch maintained that 
he could not make up his mind whether to reform the world or be an artist, and 
"the struggle invalidates most of his poems." This view is echoed by Austin 
Warren, who answers his question, "Why didn't he come off as a poet?" by 
saying that Lindsay was "torn between too many opposing forces, forces which 
he couldn't really comprehend, couldn't properly name, let alone resolve." 

These assessments recognize that Lindsay's poetry suffered because he 
concerned himself with, and expended his energies upon, too many things 
besides poetry. Being a poet is a full-time job. But we should understand that 
Lindsay was not helplessly caught up in a web which was not of his own 
conscious making. He knew what he was about, and if he was not the kind of 
meticulous craftsman that we commonly expect the poet to be, it was because 
he had chosen to be otherwise. He was in aesthetic matters essentially an 
instrumentalist; poetry for him was a means, not an end. Archibald MacLeish's 
"simply be" notion of a poem, while it would have been quite comprehensible to 
Lindsay, would have been unacceptable. A poem had a burden of meaning to 
bear; it was an instrument by which he spread the good news about the Gospel 


of Beauty. He was aware of the strong didactic bent in his poetry, and he was 
also aware that others felt that his didacticism was often heavy-handed and 
sometimes harmful. As early as 1911 Hamlin Garland had written to him and 
cautioned him to "be very careful not to write anything casually, and you must 
not permit the ethics of your message to at any time dominate your art." 

I do not think we can conclude that Lindsay simply ignored such advice as 
being in no way applicable to him. We know that he revised some of his poems 
several times, and, Pound's comments notwithstanding, he did not churn them 
out with mechanistic facility, not all of them at any rate. Still, despite 
whatever resolutions he may have made to reform, there was something in 
him that prevented him from becoming the conscious artist who labors over his 
products with meticulous care until he has polished them to perfection. That 
just wasn't Lindsay. He had a world to save and time was wasting. Although I 
am not aware of his ever explicitly indicating as much, I have the impression 
that he would have regarded the notion that poetry is an end in itself as 
somewhat effete, if not decadent. He was raised in and remained generally 
loyal to an evangelical denomination (The Disciples of Christ) which had not a 
few things in common with 17th-century Puritanism; perhaps tucked away in 
his subconscious was the idea that if art is to be justified at all it is to the 
degree that it can be put to good use. 

Be that as it may, the pragmatic overtones of Lindsay's aesthetic are very 
much in evidence and to ignore them is to miss the most important explanation 
why his poetry, as art, was not all that perhaps it could have been. Ann Massa, 
in her important book on this subject, provides a convincing argument for the 
contention that Lindsay was not an advocate of art for art's sake. "His artistic 
conscience," she explains, "told him to put matter and mass appeal before self- 
expression and aesthetics. Form was to follow function and social utility; and if 
erudition and abstract imagery seemed to the American public to smack of 
irrelevance and preciosity, he felt they should be allowed to lapse until, on the 
basis of a firmly established culture, they might elevate national sensibilities a 
stage further." Add to this Austin Warren's helpful observation that 
Lindsay viewed the poet as a myth-maker instead of a verse-maker, which 
made people like Jefferson, Hamilton, and Lincoln as much poets for him as 
politicians, and we have a clearer idea of what he conceived his own role as 
poet to be. He was variously a crusader or a troubadour; in either case, by the 
sheer power of words or by their glittering attractiveness, he would win over 
his fellows to the cause of Beauty. 

Lindsay's instrumentalist view of poetry derived from the arrangement of 
what could be called his philosophical priorities. What unquestionably came 
first for him was the need to establish among the American citizenry a lasting 
dedication to Beauty. His own quest for Beauty was, as indicated by the 
devotional language he uses in describing it, in many ways a religious quest; 
but it was not exclusively so. It was a poorly thought-out but passionately 
maintained admixture of the sacred and the secular, an admixture which 
contributed to the quest's charm but in the end provides the best clue to its 
general ineffectiveness. It was once said of him that he could not adequately 
handle his eclecticism, and that is particularly true in this case. Lindsay had 
a way of mixing his categories so as to come up with syntheses which were 


consistently weak and unimpressive. At any rate, the first order of business 
for him was to awaken the American people to a sense of the beauty in which, 
by the very fact of their being alive and in the world, they were immersed. 
Beauty, in other words, was a "given." But consciousness was all, for in effect 
beauty did not exist for those who were not aware of it. Further, the 
consciousness of beauty was not simply a pleasant addendum to one's life; it 
was absolutely critical. Beauty not only awakened man to the world around 
him but to his fullest self as well. Without it he was reduced to the prosaic level 
of a dull and deadening materialism. 

Lindsay embarked upon his crusade for Beauty early in life. In 1897, when 
he was eighteen years old and a student at Hiram College in Ohio, he had 
firmly decided that he would dedicate himself to art, but not as a timorous, 
garrett-dwelling recluse. "I have a world to save," he wrote in his diary, "and 
must prepare, prepare, prepare. . . . Behold, I shall be a Caesar in the world of 
art, conquering every sort, every language and people, and lead their kings 
captive before the men of Rome. "28 This might be regarded as little more than 
typical adolescent braggadocio, which in great part it no doubt was, but the 
important thing to note is that the attitude expressed here is one which 
Lindsay maintained for the whole of his life. In 1929, while on an eastern 
reading tour which was proving to be especially successful, he wrote to his 
wife Elizabeth: "Be ready for the success when it comes, when our sudden 
majority arrives over the U. S. A. as it did at the Christian Church in 
Springfield. We are on the edge of Bryan's power. I mean it seriously. We 
are on the edge of Bryan's power. They are coming to us, dearest, for personal 
leadership in citizenship and ideas. They follow us as the Black- Shirts do 
Mussolini, with a slant almost political. "30 

These two announcements, one made when Lindsay was eighteen, the 
other when he was fifty, reveal a great deal about the man. The slant of his 
writing was "almost political"; he, as poet, through the medium of his poetry, 
was going to lead his countrymen to a saving awareness of their 
responsibilities as citizens. They will come to him for his ideas, the ideas with 
which he had laden his poetry, and the culmination, the glorious denouement 
of the entire campaign, will be the establishment of an entirely new society, 
the Utopia of his dreams since he was a boy, when all men will live together in 
harmony, their consciousness having been raised to a perfect and permanent 
apprehension of Beauty. 

That Lindsay always conceived of his poetry as primarily a vehicle for 
social amelioration is made abundantly clear in many comments he made upon 
his work. In an introductory essay to his Collected Poems (published in 1925), 
which is significantly titled "Adventures While Preaching Hieroglyphic 
Sermons," he spends a good deal of time talking about the reading tours he had 
made throughout the country, during which he had been exposed to literally 
tens of thousands of people; he complains about what to him is a singularly 
depressing fact: most of the people who had listened to him had failed to get his 
message. They had come to be entertained by theatrical recitations of 
"General Booth" and "The Congo." Well, he was not an entertainer, and as far 
as "General Booth" and "The Congo" were concerned, his audiences could 
recite them themselves. In future recitations he advised his auditors to bring 


along with them copies of Collected Poems so that they could carefuUy follow 
his reading; the people who will be dearest to his heart will be those who "want 
to know precisely my message. "31 The use of the metaphor "preaching" to 
describe the recitation of his poetry and the promulgation of his message is not 
altogether facetious, and underscores the quasi-religious fervor with which 
Lindsay went about his tasks. He once wrote to his sister Olive that "reciting is 
to me a kind of love-making, a religious service. "32 Lindsay, then, as poet, was 
the antithesis of the secluded craftsman who labors over each word of his 
work. Lindsay was a man with a public job to do, and his tool was poetry. 

In stressing the instrumentalism which dominated Lindsay's attitude 
toward poetry I have perhaps left the impression that such an attitude caused 
him little or no trouble. That would be a false impression. He did show some 
ambivalence toward the matter, almost as if he were feeling guilty about his 
instrumentalist orientation in that it might, ironically, be undercutting the 
very goal he was attempting to achieve. There is no doubt that Lindsay did 
come to be embarrassed over the image he had attained as a declared 
proponent and insistent perpetrator of the "higher, vaudeville." However, if he 
complained that his audiences were systematically missing his message, he 
himself cannot entirely escape the blame for this. He was every inch the 
showman, and his recitations sometimes approached bombastic heights of 
dramatization — not conducive to an atmosphere, one might conclude, where 
"messages" can be transmitted with unambiguous effectiveness. He was 
apparently aware that, given his penchant for showmanship, many people 
were not taking him seriously, not only as a poet but also — what was worse — 
as a responsible proponent of aestheticism or social philosophy. Thus we 
witness his strained attempts to convince his readers that he is indeed 
qualified to speak with authority on the subjects closest to his heart. He had 
read all of Poe by the time he was fourteen; he had been to college; he had been 
an art student in both Chicago and New York; he had spent hours, days, in the 
finest museums of the world; he was a student of ancient Egypt; he was a 
student of many other things. But these protestations, no matter how true, 
were painfully beside the point, and they were too late. The damage had 
already been done; whether he liked it or not— and he decidedly did not like 
it— Lindsay had been typed by many as a sincere but superficial versifier, an 
amusing chap perhaps but uncomfortably lacking in substance. 

There is reason to believe that given his conception of himself as a "mis- 
represented stranger" he underwent a kind of identity crisis as far as his 
role as a poet was concerned. In 1925 he admitted that he was "still surprised 
to be called a writer." Alfred Kreymborg claims that Lindsay once told him 
that he had never called himself a poet. At times he seems to have despaired 
of the effectiveness of poetry in that "the American people hate and abhor 
poetry." He puzzles us by saying that the marginal directions he provides for 
the reading of his poetry are to be ignored. This is more than the playful irony 
we have come to expect of poets; it indicates a fundamental confusion on his 
part as to the quality of his work. 

To the degree that Lindsay failed as a poet, and he failed more than he 
succeeded, it was precisely to the degree that he allowed the message to take 
precedence over the medium. Once again, however, it needs to be emphasized 


that this was no accident; Lindsay knew quite well what he was doing. It has 
been Lindsay's misfortune to be known now, as he was known in his life, 
mainly by his more clamorous, not his best, poems. Off hand, I know of very 
few poetry anthologies which do not carry "General Booth" and "The Congo." 
Both have a fetching quality but they are not very good poems; they are not 
"memorable" in the best sense of the term. Concerning "The Congo," Austin 
Warren has shown, by a masterful bit of close criticism, why that poem does 
not work: it is seriously at war with itself. Earlier I cited Herbert S. 
Gorman's judgment that Lindsay's better poems are the quieter ones. I concur 
with this judgment. 

Lindsay's emotions were such that when he raised them to too high a pitch 
in his poetry they misserved him, which I suppose can be said of anyone's 
emotions as applied to anything. His emotionalism was a direct and inevitiable 
result of his intense sincerity, his unmitigated earnestness, and his dauntless 
crusading spirit. But he knew how to be calm, and when he had good control 
over his emotions, when they were subservient to the "inner voice" and the 
"gleam" of which he speaks, then his poems have power, the best, most 
effective kind of power: subtle and unobtrusive. His quiet poems are in the 
final analysis more human, for they do not intimidate, do not attack, the 
reader; they invite him. Thus, poems like "Abraham Lincoln Walks at 
Midnight" and "The Eagle That Is Forgotten," which, happily, are often 
anthologized, evince a dignity and presence which are impressive. If I were a 
prophet I would confidently proclaim that these poems, along with others such 
as "A Gospel of Beauty," "Alexander Campbell," and many of his lyrics, will be 
around long after "General Booth" and "The Congo" have been forgotten. 

What Lindsay's quiet poems indicate is that he was quite capable of the 
kind of control which, had he exercised it consistently, would have made a vast 
difference in his poetry as a whole. His own best instincts, as demonstrated by 
his eventual discomfiture with "General Booth" and "The Congo," seemed to 
have been telling him the same thing. Unfortunately, he had many instincts, 
and too often he followed those lesser ones which told him that the rough, 
unpolished, barely-under-control products of his inventiveness were worth 
cherishing. For all the ways he mistrusted himself in other matters he did not 
sufficiently mistrust himself in this. He came to doubt much of his poetry too 
late, long after it had left his desk and had been published in books. It has been 
observed of him that he was a poor critic as far as his own work was concerned, 
and there is much truth to that. He lacked that priceless knack of which Yeats 
spoke, which allows a poet to be his own best judge, to know better than 
anyone else whether or not his poems were right. If there were in fact any 
guiding "angels" in Lindsay's head to tell him what was aesthetically right and 
wrong, on most occasions he could not hear them for aU the commotion his 
emotions were making. 


Vachel Lindsay's power was real enough, but it was diffuse, uncon- 
centrated, with the result that much of what he produced, though tantalizing, 
is not enduringly compelling. Yet it is difficult to evade the uncomfortable 
feeling that that assessment of the man, while accurate, is not adequate. I said 


earlier that Lindsay seems to foil all attempts to package him too neatly and 
conveniently brush him aside; he is larger than the sum of the critical 
assessments of his works. His importance for American literature, while 
obviously deriving primarily from his writings, is not limited to them, for he 
was more than what he wrote. I feel that the justification for our continued 
interest in him, our study of him, rests finally upon his typological import. 
Vachel Lindsay was a Representative Man in a way which is very special to 
American literature and culture. He was among the last, and certainly the 
most colorful, true believers of the American dream as that dream was 
interpreted in the Midwestern myth of the garden. 

Henry Nash Smith, in his seminal book Virgin Land, demonstrates how the 
West, particularly the Middle West, became "one of the dominant symbols of 
nineteenth-century American society ... a poetic idea . . . that defined the 
promise of American life." Many of the settlers who moved into the newly 
opened territories in the 19th century were motivated by an ebullient 
optimism which had found its first tentative expression among the 17th- 
century New England Puritans and was given its fullest articulation in the 
18th century by writers like Crevecoeur and Jefferson. These settlers were 
inspired by the conviction, often millennial in tone, that they were a new 
people commencing a new era in human history. The old, the corrupt, the 
wrong-headedly civilized was behind them. Ahead of them lay a garden which 
was Edenic in its potentialities. 

Lindsay's ancestors had been r irt of the westward migration, and they had 
believed in the dream; Lindsay, t.*^ roughout his life, was acutely aware of this 
and very proud of it. Both sets of his grandparents were Kentuckians, and the 
Frazees, his maternal grandparents, eventually emigrated to Indiana. 

But my great-grandfathers came 
To the west with Daniel Boone, 
And taught his babes to read. 
And heard the redbird's tune. . . .-^^ 

Thus he wrote in "My Fathers Came from Kentucky." His Grandfather 
Frazee, the "proud farmer" for he had special admiration, was to him a 
knight of the sprawling land, a kinrly democrat who inspired his grandchildren 
until they felt connected "To all the lion-eyed who build the world—/ And 
lion-dreams begin to burn within. "40 

By the time Lindsay was born, in 1879, the front-line migrations into 
Illinois were completed and the dream which had inspired those migrations 
had been dealt a severe blow by the disillusion that followed upon the Civil 
War. But though considerably less vital, it continued to exert its influence; 
within the circle of the Disciples, and the smaller circle of his family, especially 
in the person of his mother, one co' ild say it continued to thrive. At any rate, it 
was a dream that Lindsay tenacic usly — perhaps at times even desperately — 
clung to for the duration of his life, and if one wants to think of his life as tragic, 
the tragedy consisted in his congenital inability, or perhaps dogged unwilling- 
ness, to adjust to a world which was no longer hospitable to the dream. Some, 
although not defining Lindsay's failure to adjust to modernity in precisely 
these terms, have interpreted it as a sign of immaturity. Much as he admired 


Lindsay in other respects, this was clearly the opinion of Masters; for him, 
Lindsay "never really grew up." He lived in a "cuckoo cloudland," dreaming 
"magical cities" and planning "great campaigns for the reclamation of the 
country. "14 Of course, this judgment is sound only to the degree that you 
admit that the ideals to which Lindsay adhered were thoroughly wrong- 
headed, and the world he was fighting against was worth adjusting to. 
Depending upon one's point of view, Lindsay's "immaturity" may be his most 
admirable trait and his greatest claim to enduring fame. 

Lindsay attempted to manifest in his own life that faith in the American 
dream which he felt had been bequeathed to him by his forefathers. When he 
set about preaching the Gospel of Beauty he was, in effect, expressing his faith 
in the dream, and in the capacity of the average American, for whom that 
dream had been considerably dimmed if not altogether eradicated, to once 
again acknowledge its centrality and commit himself to it. Harriet Monroe had 
once observed of him that he had "faith in beauty, in goodness (even human 
goodness, especially that of women), in the splendor of common things and 
common experiences." He was, in other words, the same kind of visionary 
democrat as were Jefferson, Emerson, and Whitman. 

Ultimately, it is impossible to accurately assess Lindsay's attitude toward 
the American dream without acknowledging the importance of his religious 
views, for in many respects his religion went hand in hand with, and 
reinforced, his deep-set belief in the dream. Masters shows very little 
sympathy for those views, although some of his observations are extraordi- 
narily penetrating. However, Masters on the subject of Lindsay's religion tells 
us more about Masters than it does about Lindsay. But it is not uncommon for 
critics to show themselves considerably less than objective on this subject. 
Although Lindsay's religious v^ews were informed primarily by the evangelical 
doctrines of the Disciples of Christ, they were, taken together, a patch-work of 
theological eclecticism. For the most part, this eclecticism did not work in his 
favor; instead of enriching his religious sensibilities it tended rather to confuse 
them. I have already said that Lindsay was not a systematic thinker; to that I 
add the corollary that he was not a systematic believer. Lindsay simply lacked 
the capacity to assimilate and render into a coherent pattern the many 
theological tidbits which composed his superficial knowledge of various 
Christian denominations and world religions. One thing is clear, however: his 
religious views, such as they were, played a vital part in the formulation of his 
social philosophy. Indeed, Lindsay's religious views and his "politics" were 
inextricably intertwined. 

Specifically, the millennialism which played an integral part in the beliefs of 
the Disciples of Christ (one recalls that the organ which Alexander Campbell 
edited for thirty-five years was called the Millennial Harbinger) became an 
important part of Lindsay's peculiar interpretation of the American dream. In 
Collected Poems he quotes Alexander Campbell, the founder of the Disciples of 
Christ: "The present material universe, yet unrevealed in all its area, in all its 
tenantries, in all its riches, beauty and grandeur, will be wholly regener- 
ated. "43 Apart from citing its source, Lindsay offers this passage as a preface 
to one of his poems without commentary. Obviously, he uses it because he 
agrees with the soaring hope for a better world, for a better mankind, which it 


bespeaks. While the regeneration which he envisioned was cosmic in scope, it 
was to have its genesis in America, more particularly in the Middle West, 
more particularly still in Springfield, Illinois. Thus we see combined in him his 
faith as a Disciple of Christ and his faith as an advocate of the American dream. 
Springfield's future was shining; he saw it as becoming an ideal city, an 
edifying exemplar highly suggestive of John Winthrop's "city upon a hill." 

Whatever diverse ramifications Lindsay's guiding ideology may have had, 
however intimately it may have been associated with his specifically religious 
views, it was, at bottom, a direct outgrowth of his profound and thorough 
Americanism. His dream was first and foremost the American dream. Naive 
though one may want to consider it, there was nothing disingenuous about his 
love for his country; further, it was a love based upon an impressive amount of 
broad, first-hand knowledge. "I prefer the American flag to the cross," he once 
said. "Patriotism like love is a most imperfect passion, and surely I have it, 
with all its imperfections. The fact that it is generally tied up with war has 
almost spoiled it for me, but just the same I have seen this land as a whole, and 
as a peaceful splendor, and it really means a very great deal to me. I seem to 
have a kind of heartache for every state in the union, no matter how silly that 
may seem." But the America Lindsay was in love with was more the 
America that was rather than the one which was coming to be. As already 
indicated, it was rural America, small-town America — as can be seen by his 
promotion of the "New Localism" — which for him contained the germs for the 
full flowering of the ideals expressed by heroes like Jefferson. And his 
contemporary American heroes— Robert Frost, Woodrow Wilson, Henry 
Ford, Gene Tunney, Charles Lindbergh — were in effect modern versions of 
the rugged individualist of the early frontier. They did as they pleased; the 
"supremacy" of each, according to Lindsay, consisted in his ability "fo be above 
every single piece of machinery without shrieking against it. And yet to be 
completely effective as a traditional American."^^ 

Lindsay looked back nostalgically to what he saw as "the nobler days of 
America's innocence," before the machine became a dominant and deadening 
factor in national life, before the citizenry at large became tragically 
desensitized to their capabilities as perceivers and creators of the beautiful. It 
is difficult to locate in Lindsay's life where precisely the turning point came, 
but the unbounded optimism that carried him easily through his first 
thirty-five years began to give way to a pessimism which was in fact at times 
near despair. It would be superficial to explain this transition as simply a 
by-product of his growing older and losing his youthful, untested idealism, 
although that was certainly part of it. But it had also to do with Springfield's 
practice of regarding its native son as a hair-brained eccentric — more to be 
pitied than praised. He referred pointedly to "the usual Middle West 
crucifixion of the artist" to which his home town had subjected him. Closely 
connected with this was the broader rejection which he felt he had experienced 
at the hands of the audiences which failed to grasp his message. There was, 
then, a considerable amount of the purely personal which formed the 
foundation for his eventual pessimism. More important, however, was the 
state of American culture at large, which he felt was growing more and more 
antipathetic toward the dream. 


Vachel Lindsay died thinking that he was a failure, and in a way he was 
correct. He had not been the poet which he could have been, but more 
fundamentally, and more importantly as far as he personally was concerned, 
he had not succeeded in his noble intent of turning the tide of modernity and 
convincing his countrymen to commit themselves to a Jeffersonian model for 
society. Lindsay took upon himself no less a task than attempting to stem the 
tide of the rapidly changing mores of an entire nation, and the assumption of 
such a task was in itself an invitation to defeat. But if Lindsay failed it was by 
way of excess; he cannot be accused of meanness of spirit. To him Beauty was 
an absolute to which he had dedicated himself without reserve. He regarded 
his poetry as a means, not an end, an instrument with which he endeavored to 
make mankind at large aware of the centrality of Beauty — for man, in 
submitting to the beautiful, becomes fully conscious of himself as an integral 
part of the totahty of creation. 


' Peter Viereck. "The Crack-Up of American Optimism: Vachel Lindsay, the Dante of 
the Fundamentalists," Modern Age. 4 (1960), 269. 

Hazelton Spencer. "The Life and Death of a Bard," American Mercury, April 1932, p. 

Ann Massa, Vachel Lindsay: Fieldworker for the American Dream (Bloomington: 
Indiana Univ. Press, 1970), p. 19. 

Herbert S. Gorman, "Vachel Lindsay: Evangelist of Poetry," North American Review, 
219 (1924), 125. 

Henry Morton Robinson, "The Ordeal of Vachel Lindsay: A Critical Reconstruction," 
in Profile of Vachel Lindsay, ed. John T. Flanagan (Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1970). p. 49. 

Conrad Aiken, "Vachel Lindsay," in Profile of Vachel Lindsay, p. 5. 

As quoted in Eleanor Ruggles, The West-Going Heart: A Life of Vachel Lindsay (New- 
York: Norton, 1959), p. 156. 


Harriet Monroe, "Vachel Lindsay," in Profile of Vachel Lindsay, p. 8. 

As quoted in Robert F. Sayre, "Vachel Lindsay," Introduction to Adventures. Rhymes 
and Designs, by Vachel Lindsay (New York: Eakins Press, 1968), p. 7. 

'^ Gorman, p. 128. 

As quoted in Harriet Monroe, Introduction to The Congo and Other Poems, by 
Vachel Lindsay (New York: Macmillan, 1916), p. vii. 

As quoted in Ruggles, p. 276. 

As quoted in Ruggles, p. 285. 

Spencer, p. 455. 

As quoted in Massa, p. 230. 

As quoted i 

Aiken, p. 5 



As quoted in Massa, p. 12. 

John T. Flanagan, "Vachel Lindsay: An Appraisal," in Profile of Vachel Lindsay, p. 
Carl Van Doren, "Salvation With Jazz," in Profile of Vachel Lindsay, p. 31. 

Henry Seidel Canby, "Vachel Lindsay," in Profile of Vachel Lindsay, p. 33. 


^^ Massa, p. 12. 

22 Marianne Moore, "An Eagle in the Ring," Dial, 75 (1923), 498. 

23 Babette Deutsch, Poetry in Our Time (New York: Holt, 1952), p. 44. 
^ Austin Warren, "The Case of Vachel Lindsay," Accent, 6 (1960), 230. 
^ As quoted in Ruggles, p. 170. 

26 Massa, p. 225. 


'^ W. R. Moses, "Vachel Lindsay: Ferment of the Poet's Mind," in Profile of Vachel 

Lindsay, p. 79. 

2° As quoted in Mark Harris, Introduction to Selected Poems of Vachel Lindsay (New 

York: Macmillan, 1963), p. xiv. 

He refers here to the enthusiastic response he had received on November 18, 1929 to a 
reading of his poems in the First Christian Church in Springfield. He interpreted this as a 
long-delayed acknowledgment by his home town that he was in fact a poet of consequence. 

As quoted in Ruggles, p. 398. 
^ Vachel Lindsay, Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1927), p. xxx. 

As quoted in Ruggles, p. 243. 

•^■^ Lindsay, Collected Poems, p. 3. 

^'^ Ibid., p. 1. 

Alfred Kreymborg, "Exit Vachel Lindsay — Enter Ernest Hemingway," Literary 
Review, 2 (Winter 1957-58), 210. 

As quoted in Massa, p. 226. 

3*^ Warren, p. 234 ff. 

^^ Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Lana (New York: Vintage, 1950), p. 138. 

Lindsay, Collected Poems, p. 3^ '.. 

^^ Ibid., p. 72. 

Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay: A Poet in America (New York: Scribners, 
1935), p. 352. 

Harriet Monroe. "Vachel Lindsay," in Profde of Vachel Lindsay, p. 8. 

Lindsay, Collected Poems, p. 352. 

As quoted in Masters, p. 346. 

As quoted in Ruggles, p. 390. 
'^^ Lindsay, Collected Poems, p. 90. 
^"^ Ibid., p. XX. 

Vachel Lindsay's American Mythocracy 
and Some Unpublished Sources 


Misconceptions die hard. Sixty -three years after Vachel Lindsay's rise to 
fame, the established image remains of the jingle man, of the exotic reciter and 
jazz fan. But I think it can be proved— and will be in the coming years— that, 
deep inside, Lindsay's personality and endeavors corresponded to none of the 
stereotypes along which people nowadays think of him: Vachel Lindsay hated 
Jazz, was not "loud," was no great specialist of things African, spent most of 
his life doing something else than begging and tramping. On the other hand, 
whatever mattered in Lindsay has been misunderstood and carefully left out: 
his discoveries — a number of landmarks touching the movies, semiotics in 
general, the interdependence of the arts, and the spatialization of poetry- 
have been ignored, and his relevance to our times is hardly ever mentioned. 
The image of the passeistic populist grows stale under the pen of such scholars 
as deem it worth their while to even mention the man. 

Yet Vachel Lindsay was a very important— if not "great"— American poet, 
who explored in his lifetime trails hardly open to the American unconscious, 
suggested new molds for the national image, and discovered ways for the 
American people to find a national soul. In the last ten years, men like 
Marshall McLuhan, R. Barthes and Herbert Marcuse have refined and 
popularized ideas for which Lindsay should be known; early researchers in the 
field of semiotics and the nature of the imagination have been rediscovered and 
recognized; studies in myth and national ideas have made headway; popular 
culture has emerged as an essential field of investigation. Still, meaningful 
reference to Lindsay is nowhere to be found. I suggest that America might 
have something to gain by turning to the thought of its admirer and becoming 
acquainted with his ineffable, disputable, but endearing vision: "I do see an 
America no one else sees, and I am sure I will never write it down. ... It is a 
land I revel in, but not as people dream." 

From the Conestoga wagons which Lindsay saw going West, while young, 
to the prairie schooners he saw coming back East thirty years later, both the 
physical and mythical realities of the country were part of his heritage. Vachel 
Lindsay's vision of his land is first of all tightly linked with the m)dhology of 
the frontier; but his conception of America strangely partakes of the masculine 
and the feminine at the same time. To the "virile," harsh, impressively wide 
and breath-taking topography of frontier America, Lindsay adds an essentially 

- 42 - 


feminine soul dimension, which blends into the masculine frontier mythology 
in a way which he himself compares to the softening of warlike instincts by the 
leadership of a Joan of Arc. Thus America, to Lindsay, is "she": 

Surely the face of America is forever following the West-going sun, and we are 
committed for all time to the west-going dream, and the deepest meaning of the 
west-going dream in all history since the tribes left the mountains of Central Asia. 
Whatever that vague west-going yearning may be in the heart of mankind, we 
seek the last chance to fulfill it, and our Goddess of Liberty, our Columbia, our 
daughter of Columbus, must be a west-going soul.-^ 

It is this feminine soul of the nation whose cause he constantly espoused — like 
a knight errant in service to his beloved. 

It is, then, not surprising that Lindsay expresses a desire for contact with 
the United States time and again in his notebooks. He asks A. Joseph 
Armstrong, the organizer of his reciting tours, to "give him as complete a 
geographical education as possible," and after many years, with thousands of 
miles covered on the lecture circuit, after having been all but worn out by the 
Pullman Car, he confesses, "[Armstrong] has delivered a car-window map of 
the USA and Canada to me, has sent me into every state in the union and most 
of the provinces of Canada— and given me a geographical education I can 
meditate on for twenty years. "5 

Ten years later, in 1932, on the morrow of Vachel Lindsay's death, 
Hazelton Spencer was already writing: "With the possible exception of Mark 
Twain, no American writer of importance ever geographically experienced the 
United States so thoroughly as Lindsay did." But a sentimental education it 
was: Lindsay never ceases to proclaim his love and physical longing for the 
land, a "hunger" or "lust" that will even long fight in his heart the presence of 
any woman, as if the reality of the land were some sort of a mistress, jealously 
monopolizing his feelings and energy: 

I see this whole land as a unit. I have traveled over it so much. ... I seem to 
have a kind of heartache for every state in the union, no matter how silly that may 
seem. I love the United States and in spite of all the struggle of this tour I love the 
land that I have passed over. Every morning from the train has been lovely. ^ 

His thirst is extended to whatever representations of the beloved object 
are available: the contemplation of a map answers Lindsay's perpetual, 
ingrained veneration for the pictorial renderings of a variety of beloved 
women's faces, miniatures or photographs. "I love to draw the map of the 
USA." To his early, and possibly most important, love, Sara Teasdale, he 
imparts his doubts concerning the honesty of a mixed passion, apt to nourish 
touchy jealousies: 

My only real fear in loving you ... is that I would be so far from that embrace 
with the green earth which is my natural goal. I have been thinking of it a lot 
lately. If I have a destiny it is to give voice to the six feet of black earth beneath 
us. . . .10 

To Vachel Lindsay, this means discovering "the soul of the USA," finding out 
the interior signs of its greatness, isolating the constituent elements of the 


beloved, to give them an orientation, an organization, to make sense out of 
them on a plane wider than the simple overwhelming yearning to touch and 
sing the object of his deepest desires. The reality of America must also be 
signified, transcribed into symbols and pictures and words that will make its 
essence operative: "You cannot take western scenery in the raw without being 
made restless. It cannot be gulped wholesale. No matter how beautiful it must 
have the association of a saint, an artist, a tribe, a family, a hero, a genius 
achievement, or it is one more movie or newsreel, twitching and turned too 

Magnificence and the "grand manner" must be brought about if social 
America is to survive, in the same way as a soul must be discovered in 
geographical America if it is not to smother its occupants: "I picture a type of 
vigorous Americanism born from our six feet deep black soil— a passionate and 
hardy race— able to conquer and master our tremendous physical resources 
without being smothered by them. ... I am not dreaming of a Millennium— 
but of a magnificent and passionate ripened earth— with enough saints to keep 
it sweet. "12 Signs and symbols must be found to help the people articulate 
their longing and place it on a special field called Art, Beauty, or Poetry, so 
that its orientation can give to social coexistence a meaning more positive and 
constructive than mere individualistic safety from others. The all-embracing 
glance cast by Lindsay on his country does not exclude selection of a number of 
symbolic series which he proposes to his people for the enrichment of its 
imagination and the enlightenment of such as may grope amidst forces they do 
not understand. "Great" or "grand" landscapes are answered, in his 
cosmogony, by great myths and grand characters, all articulated around basic 
series of what he calls "American Hieroglyphs." Lack of space does not allow 
here a refined definition of the latter; we might perhaps call them, with 
Lindsay's help, the "minute cells" of American pictorial thought, imaged 
particles of the collective unconscious. 

In such a system, to stick to simple things, the log-cabin "means" pioneer, 
but also "means" Lincoln and thereby, in Lindsay's view, a type of Franciscan 
sainthood; a plumed hat stands for Virginian tradition, and the Mohawk 
epitomizes the fundamental "Indian-ness" of every American citizen. 
Whatever they be, these "signs" must be made the very stuff of the artist's 
work, so that, by and by, a conscience of the basic constituent elements of 
America and of their nature is developed in all people. Civics can relay this 
type of formation and religiously extend to the whole social body the 
disseminated efforts of poets whose power is exercised only at the highest 
level of communication. What they discover and explore must be relayed and 
made available to all by social institutions: such is the schematic way to 
national identity. 

The grandeur of humble things can only be grasped when the whole 
environment is given precisely defined direction. Suffice it to say, for the time 
being, that the developing soul of the nation is to be the product of the 
interaction of its traditionally "unartistic parts": the village and its people, the 
daily but holy activities of the working man, the fancies of childhood, and the 
aspirations of youth, the doings of past Americans. As Lindsay writes, 
"Unseen fires from buried breasts/ Rise into the living hearts of us./ No other 
soil is haunted thus. "13 


Here again, he is eminently relevant and modern, envisioning the cultural 
life of the country as a network of interwoven relational patterns touching all 
fields of social, spiritual, and mythological life. This vision of a culture 
redeemed he wishes to propagate over the whole United States, to replace a 
cultural model that is, in his lifetime, in the process of destroying the soul of 
the country: "Art must be offered to America as a substitute for the society 
craze just beginning. . . . Rewrite the power of the platitude into platitudes in 
pictures. "14 Should America consent to falling prey to a sort of socio-cultural 
schizophrenia, with aesthetics on the one hand, and politics and economics on 
the other, it is sure to fail or become monstrous. The soul of the USA cannot be 
saved outside of a unity of purpose and means, an integrated discourse taking 
into consideration all aspects of man. Fifty years before Marcuse, the one- 
dimensionality of contemporary American culture is thus denounced: 
"America must be magnificent, she has no other chance. She will be 
magnificent, or a merely ostentatious gaudy failure — according to the sort of 
interest her people take in the matter. She cannot remain indifferent. She 
must choose between Gold and Gilt." "Gold" obviously represents in part for 
Vachel Lindsay the soul of the natural, traditional, and agrarian America. 
Whatever may come to regenerate the United States will come from the 
sublime body and soul of the land. Lindsay opposes it to the efforts of the 
commercially-inclined and industrial-minded to plunder the country and 
remain indifferent to the beauty that constitutes its real worth. The only war 
Lindsay supports is that against Babbitt or "Gilt." 

But misunderstanding of Lindsay's purpose brought him much criticism. A 
number of things Ezra Pound reproached Lindsay with were ill-grounded: a 
hasty assimilation of his geographical origins with the caiicature of the 
midwestern "hick" took him far away from the real picture of a man who had 
the courage not to deny his origins. That Lindsay should have assumed his 
"native grounds" got him but spite from an elitist intelligentsia who fled what 
it could not endure and sneered from afar instead of fighting what disfigured 
its image of America. It is part of the "resume" of a man who favored popular 
poetry that he should have been the target of the literary establishment's 
ridicule. "Once Amy Lowell took two pages of the New York Times to write me 
up as a crude middle westerner of the middle class, whatever that may mean," 
Lindsay humorously wrote to Harriet Monroe. Even his long-standing friend 
Louis Untermeyer made sure, when he wrote articles on Vachel Lindsay, that 
the Midwesterner was carefully taken out of the picture or methodically 
criticized so that the rest (?) could be taken seriously. Lindsay, on the 
contrary, wanted the Middle West to be part and parcel of his reputation. His 
people, his land, his town, he felt deserved recognition. Whatever, therefore, 
made the Midwest ridiculous to most — and primarily the Babbitt-like part of 
the community— had to be his target: Babbitt was a tree hiding a forest of good 
people, and he had to be cut down. 

But other aspects of American life were also under his attack and may have 
alienated his critics: Lindsay did not only defend the Middle West but also kept 
proclaiming its superiority over the East Coast — symbolized in his eyes by 
business, snobbery, and European trends— which he held responsible for most 
of the evils that besieged America. At the core of midwestern Babbitry, 


Lindsay finds an eastern "roUertop desk" mentality, without which the 

Midwest could blossom. "Babbitry is simply the state of mind of the small 

American businessman of Main Street. The men who are his bosses are not the 

Babbitts. And neither are the laboring men and the farmers" he writes in 

defense of his "constituency." And in a letter of resignation from the Rotary 
Club— he had been persuaded to join in the wake of his first days of celebrity, 
in an attempt to reach the community leaders and make them share his 
vision— he makes clear the link that, for him, exists between Babbitry and 
business activities: "I do not like the Rotary scheme. It is exclusively business 
men and seems to me an effort to draw a line of hatred between business men 
and working people, instead of talking with them out of business hours and 
getting acquainted. "19 

Industrial and commercial America, based on money and profit-making, 
Lindsay despises with all his might, and he is not willing to make concessions. 
The "War Bulletins" he had published in the early years of the century called 
for no mercy, and he tramped and begged »vhen faced with the possibility of 
otherwise giving in to "the enemy." Therein also lies the reason why he should 
all his life have been a warm admirer of Oriental Arts and a decrier of Roman 
civilization: "Rome was the Rotary Club of the world— the Kiwanis Club of 
Antiquity— the abominable Optimists and Lions Club of the Mediterrane- 
an. .. . Justice was not the Roman instinct but Order— and even a wasps' nest 
has order— mathematical system. "20 Likewise, furious at being commercially 
appraised by his publisher, he scorns the "Mc Million Company." Time and 
again, in the face of potential success, but at the cost of a great compromise, he 
comes back only to attack, ready to die to "purify," in his own terms, the 
mid western scene from all traces of commercialism and money measurements: 

Let us enter the great offices and shut the desk lids and cut the telephone 
wires. Let us see that the skyscrapers are empty and locked, and the keys thrown 
into the river. Let us break up the cities. Let us send men on a great migration: set 
free, purged of the commerce-made manners and fat prosperity of America; 
ragged with the beggar's pride, starving with the crusader's fervor. Better to die of 
plague on the highroad seeing the angels, than live on iron streets playing 
checkers with dollars ever and ever. 21 

Contrary to common opinion, Lindsay's early war-cries never died off to 
make room for the other avenues of inspiration wished upon him by such as 
could not stand the young Mid westerner's image. As a matter of fact, the 
double and simultaneous battle — on the one hand, to defend the Midwest in the 
face of attacks and derision, to propose it as a potentially viable model of 
civilization, and on the other, to rejuvenate it from the inside through 
relentless attacks on its establishment, so that the potential "model" actually 
could become one— only increased in violence with the years. In a way, Camus 
later echoed Lindsay when he uttered his famed cry from the heart: "I wish I 
could love honor and still love my country." Lindsay nourished very much the 
same feelings toward his home town, his home state, his home region and his 
home country. What defects or sins he fought in them he fought "for their own 
good," in order to redeem them and make admiration from the outside world 
possible for them. 


Dedication to local improvement, to the discovery of a place's soul, to the 
development of a place's imagination of itself, to the furtherance of 
"magnificence" and the promotion of "style," will be Lindsay's brand of 
patriotism, even if they imply that stands be firmly taken against unbearable 
aspects of the establishment. Vachel Lindsay's career is almost entirely 
predicated on the proposition that America has been painted the wrong colors 
and must be scraped, drilled, pickled, and scoured, that its modern noises have 
hushed the Arcadian flutes of its soul and must be held in abeyance, 
disciplined, controlled. The soul of the nation has been smothered and must be 
brought back to life and view. Such is everyone's task, under the spiritual 
aegis of the poet, bent on the rejuvenation and redemption of his land. 

Oh slogan-slaughtered country, 

That hides your secret mind, 

Where the billboards drive the shrewd men from the street, 

Where the wisest college presidents must kneel to racketeers 

Till the long held up endowment is complete. 

Oh, slogan-slaughtered nation, whose secret voice is hid 

With rackets that will never reach the stars. 22 

Whence the "New Nationalism," the "New Localism," and the "New 
Americanism" that Lindsay, in succession or simultaneously, hopes for and 
preaches. From "Village Improvement" to "Democratic Magnificence," the 
same idea is at work: 

One of the most terrible things in the United States is that the only way out is 
up. The only way to get anywhere is to conquer the whole country, and no one 
corner yields till every corner yields. When you try to get local and neighborly they 
make an ass of you. . . . Yet I believe that to every soul in America there is some 
one comer where he is predestined to make a local stand, as a final step, and, if he 
cannot survive the discipline he is not an American. . . . Until we get states' rights 
in Art, after one hundred years battle, this will not be Thomas Jefferson country 
and the artists will be unfulfilled. 

I consider that I belong forever to Illinois whether I like it or not, and it is my 
inevitable destiny. 23 

The reason why Vachel Lindsay should have chosen Springfield and Illinois 
for the center of his endeavors is at least double: of course Illinois and 
Springfield are home in the deepest meaning of the term, and Lindsay knows 
them well; but there is also the fact that he fancies Illinois to be some sort of 
compromise between two life styles, two populations, two parts of America, 
two civilizations and even two worlds: "I have pictured the two ancient North 
and South streams of pilgrimage which made Illinois, and therefore, 
Springfield; the Johnny Appleseed Highway from Massachusetts, the 
Elizabethan Pocahontas or Daniel Boone Highway from Virginia." The best 
of both parts of the USA has come West— the best, because their 
representatives are pioneers, explorers, visionaries. From Boston comes not 
the Brahmin, but a Swedenborgian; from Virginia come symbols of 
magnificence, grandeur and hardihood. To Lindsay, somehow, the Middle 
West is west of "machine-made America," "west of the Old South" and "East of 
the cowboy." He finds in such a place his own answer to the tearing apart of 


the nation, a way to reconcile both halves torn asunder by a Mason and Dixon 
Line that runs through his own family, through "his own heart. "I know 
myself well enough now to know I am an incurable Midwesterner with a 
Southern slant" he writes to Kermit Roosevelt in 1928. But Chicago and 
Springfield are far North indeed. A compromise seems necessary and allows 
some harmonious blend of Anglo-Saxon thought and the customs and 
civilizations of the South and East, among which Egypt takes paramount 
meaning because of its direct counterpart (Cairo, Niles, and Little Egypt) in 
the heart of Illinois. From the vivification of the sound soil of the Midwest by a 
soul come from the past of wise mankind, unperverted by commerce and 
business civilization, a new and truly original American civilization will be 
reborn and developed. 

There is unfortunately far too much to say on the details of Lindsay's 
midwestern vision, but a central comment on his work as a whole might be 
offered: Sangamon County and Springfield are, in a way, his Yoknapatawpha 
and Jefferson, reduced to their American contents. It is not that the Golden 
Book of Springfield pretends to be a strictly midwestern prophecy, but that, to 
Lindsay, the right conditions for founding a similar kind of Pilgrim City are 
only gathered in the Midwest, where the principles and essence of early 
American Democracy have been preserved and left untouched by moneyed 
interests: "It is not a peasant— a middle-class Democracy. It is a pioneer 
democracy, a democracy of pioneers— of those who agree to be practically 
equal as long as they are efficient explorers. "27 Whatever is not in the 
Midwest has been perverted in some way (the East by business, the South by 
racial prejudice, the West Coast by gold and sophistication), and Lindsay, far 
from considering the Midwest as the ideal place he has in mind, simply 
considers that it offers the best ground to build his visionary — and still 
certainly not "Utopian"— city on. The Midwest is the place where he can live in 
spite of present conditions and keep hope: 

Now since tor a hundred years yet America must be materialist, let it be a 
concentrated consecrated materialism — something pure and sweet and sane, so 
that when the spiritualization of American life comes, it will be a healthful 
reaction from a healthful materialism rather than a morbid distorted reaction 
from a perverse materialism. 28 

A letter he sends to Armstrong twenty years after this last remark 
illustrates that point; it is an explanation of the reasons why the Middle West 
should be taken as a basis to start from, keeping in mind that the schools and 
community he mentions owe their value as a potential starting point to their 
being close to the land. Localism offers sound roots and good earth, which both 
have to be preserved. The fertilization and careful, expert growth can come 

[Eastern schools] are not as completely the flower of America as are the 
co-educational religious western schools, which grow up out of the ground as 
naturally as the blue grass and the Indian corn and the violets. ... I believe 
profoundly in our agricultural and middle west civilization and think it is the 
natural America, and the America with the oldest and most normal history. I 
greatly mistrust Industrial America, radical or conservative. ... I am keenly 
aware of how I differ from everything East of the Mississippi River or Springfield, 
in Europe or in America. 2" 


The transformation will take place if the poet is able to communicate to the 
community the magic that he extracts from the land, if he distills into words 
and images the splendor of the country, turns it into civic magnificence and 
infuses the people with it. The magic of the country will take the place of 
whatever middle-class mentality has historically distorted it to be. 

Even the great men who have tried their "sainthood" at politics (Lincoln, 
Altgeld, Bryan, the cohorts of Lindsay's midwestern and local heroes) have 
had their message hushed. The poet's task also consists in giving a voice to the 
magnificence and grand style of these men. Aesthetics and myth extend 
politics as a source of action and inspiration and finally replace it totally. 
Imagination as redemption of reality, fancy as the only sort of reality worth 
our while, images and pictures as the only path to the heart of truth. The 
object of Vachel Lindsay's poetic action becomes itself a poet: Springfield has 
to have its fancy shaped by the poet in order to shape the world's imagination 
in its turn and become America's Mecca, the Pilgrim City of the Year 2000. 

Readers of Lindsay will find that the state of Virginia bears directly upon 
the Middle West, for he finds in the one something that can be made greater by 
the other. On the tabula rasa of the Midwest, Lindsay wants to build with 
incense and splendor, come through time and space from the magnificent days 
of pre-colonial and colonial America. "The Midwesterner is in Hne with our 
simple democratic traditions and gets his education from the four seasons and 
the book of God and the open sky," he writes. 30 The Midwest is thereby 
protected against the commercial and political evils that have destroyed 
tradition on the East Coast. Natural beauty and wholesomeness breeds 
resistance to what germs of destructive industrialism might come to infect its 
spirit: "these villages are the fortunate islands in the wild sea of commerce. "31 
On the as yet unspoiled land where he was born, Lindsay wants to restore the 
grandeur of the land whence his forefathers came: "Virginia" — that is, an idea 
of the old South, of the agrarian South — as opposed to a merchant, then 
industrial. North. Really come from Kentucky, Lindsay's forebears represent 
in his mind the grandeur contained in his Spanish and Indian ancestry, and 
"Virginia" is the geometrical locus of grandee behavior, Indian bravery and 
style, early frontier gusto and the rise of democratic traditions in what he calls 
"the grand manner." He states, "I have what may be called an entirely 
romantic feeling in regard to the Virginia tradition. "32 The main idea behind 
The Litany of Washington Street, which takes up, late in Lindsay's career 
(1929) the American fraction of his much earlier Litany of Heroes, could be 
described thus: the three original saints of American democracy, namely 
Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson, had style, what the youth of today 
might brand "class." Their mere attitudes osmotically signified the grandeur of 
America; their grandeur was a policy in itself, symbolic of the prolongation 
into Anglo-Saxon colonies of the greatest native traditions of the soil. 
Washington was, at bottom, an Indian. The debate on his political astuteness 
and actual intelligence is irrelevant: his gait and military tactics were Indian. 
The legitimacy of his power was grounded in style, in the blend of attitude and 
environment that was typically his. Hamilton and Jefferson were both 
aristocrats, not by title or blasphemous heritage, but by their coinciding with 
the nobility of the country. The plumed bonnet shows in the feathered hat. 
Whatever the divergences between their respective views, there was nothing 


in their attitudes one could not respect. Lindsay's mind and heart go to 
Jefferson, the real soul of America, but Hamiltonians of the colonial period had 
an honest right to their views, he concedes. What matters is what they had in 
common as far as grandeur went — human translations, both, of the physical 
power of the land. 

The American grand manner ... is thoroughly established in statesmanship, 
and it has been so since the days of Washington. Our problem of men of letters is 
to transfer to the field of writing that same grand manner, so thoroughly 
established in our politics, and add that particular limberness which the British 
for the most part assume is our sole characteristic and right to place in the writing 
world. ... If one does not have the west-going heart in America, the thousand 
little nations which are the countries of Europe pull him away. . . .^-^ 

This, again, is not strictly a matter of politics. Aesthetics and mythology 
are the governing problems Lindsay is interested in. His idea, he himself 
suggests, is "to work out the aesthetic equivalent of Hamilton, Jefferson and 
Washington. "34 This he finds, in part, in other great American figures as well. 
Thus, for him, Jackson and Lincoln obviously belong to the Virginia tradition. 
"A Democratic A.ristocracy of Style" might sum up what he is after. The idea is 
to counterbalance Babbitt's reactionary views. Babbitt's spiritual slovenliness, 
and Babbitt's lack of taste. The "Gospel of Beauty" had similar aims. As 
Lindsay puts it, "[The Litany of Washington Street] is intended, among other 
things, to cut Main Street at right angles. "'^5 Although aesthetics matter more 
than social commitment per se, he sets great store by the direct effects the 
"grand manner" can have. In 1926, he notes: 

All men are created equal in the right to life, liberty and the grand manner. 
The world for a long time has confused the grand style and the caste system. 
Lincoln came to prove that the grand style had nothing to do with the caste 
system, that one can be magnificent and prophetic and democratic. ^^ 

The sociologically confused democratic rush epitomized by the only 
candidate to the Presidency in American history ever to run without a 
platform— Andrew Jackson— is, to Linds'^y, pure, unadulterated "political" 
power. Lindsay believes in the dominj tion of the power structure by 
ideological figures alien to the world of politics" stricto sev^u. Thus, the 
murder of Lincoln is seen as a crucifixion and matters mythologically , down at 
the bottom of what makes a nation tick as nation. Likewise, the murder of 
"respectable McKinley," "who climbed every greasy pole," has less "political" 
importance than the mere defeat of Bryan who speaks for the land and has the 
"grand manner." 

In 1928, with Hoover in the offing, and thus Babbitt on his way back to the 
White House, Lindsay publishes "The Virginians Are Coming Again," a poem 
the importance of which, both in terms of themes and in terms of technical and 
aesthetic worth, has been consistently underrated. He deplores his not being 
able to have a number of his Litany essays taken into consideration by 
politicians, but is sure his poem counts enough for a coincidence of dates to 
matter: "My new poem appears in the American Mercury on the day the 
Democratic Convention opens at Houston, Texas. That poem is not rhetoric. I 
mean every line of it."37 The poem states: 


Babbitt, your tribe is passing away. 
This is the end of your infamous day. 
The Virginians are coming again. 

With your neat little safety-vault boxes, 

With your faces like geese and foxes. 


Short-legged, short-armed, short-minded men, 

Your short-sighted days are over. . . .^° 

What is, then, the relevance of a poet for whom all vision must be answered 
by prophecy and utterance; what can we say for the courage and lucidity of a 
poet who, clearly perceiving the evolution of his country and the possibilities 
to influence it, dared commit himself to the huge task and was naturally 
destroyed by it. Neither his attempts to speak to his country's language^^ nor 
his attempts at demonstrating that the establishment did not respect the 
historical references it gave itself, really worked. If something worked in 
Vachel Lindsay's career, if there is something in his works that will renew his 
fame and make it grow and last, it is the nature of the poetics he decided to use 
as the only means suited to his vision. If something remains that the United 
States could use on the verge of a bicentennial which sets off dramatically the 
lack of imagination and spiritual dullness of its leaders, it is Lindsay's theory of 
poetic statesmanship and prophecy. 

I hope to have made clear by now that Lindsay's concern is with aesthetics 
over politics, that to mention his political and social thought with no reference 
to his overall aesthetic views is a doomed enterprise. Lindsay never mentions 
a desire of any kind to change the institutions of his beloved country or even to 
modify them; what is to be corrected is the vision of America, not her 
institutions. Fantastic glasses would make her see her real tradition and tear 
her away from the claws that are slowly smothering her. The poet as Lindsay 
sees him is the person who makes that vision accessible to all, vicariously or 
directly as the case may be: seer and/or maker of eye-glasses, the poet must 
be the real statesman. 

Moreover, the Lindsayan theory of statesmanship works both ways: 
politicians can be taught and encouraged to adhere to and practice the 
principles of splendor and artistic rule that the Founding Fathers devised. 
Hence, because Theodore Roosevelt befriends a number of artists and acts 
with gusto, breeds legends and uses them to move the nation, Lindsay can 
have respect and cordial thoughts for him. As the first American critic ever of 
the motion pictures as an art, Lindsay feels free to speak metaphorically of the 
artistic duties of the politician: 

My general proposition is that the United States [is] a great movie. . . . Let us 
say to the Lords of the Land, "We think in pictures if we think at all." And those 
who would regulate and rule the thinking of our democracy must learn to think in 
subtlest movie terms. For it is the razor-edged thought that finally wins.'^^ 

Government as an art comes to existence when it is Government by art; 
half-artist, half-priest of the cult of Beauty, the statesman can actually rule; 
otherwise he cannot even reign over the minds of the people or the soul of the 
country. In his usual indirect personal way, Vachel Lindsay thus defines 
charismatic power. Only as a direct consequence of this theory does he suggest 


that the best statesman must and should be a poet. After all, "the true 
sovereigns of a country are those who dominate its mind" as Channing and 
modern-day advertisers, ideologues and propagandists unanimously confess. 
Any real change in the pattern of American life will, for Lindsay, come from 
the action of statesmen poets. 

Not that Lindsay is desirous to submit his people's imagination to the 
"hidden persuasion" of his art in particular, or to give it a more precise 
direction than the harmonious triumph of the beauty of the land, the beauty of 
the people it bears and the beauty of their devotion to the rest of the world. 
Lindsay does not even picture himself as indispensable to that great endeavor: 
any poet will do; he doesn't have to think what Lindsay thinks; he doesn't even 
have to be "distinguished." However, such poets do have to be devoted to 
improving the America of their own time: 

Their first task is not to beat Homer nor yet Whitman— but to put song into 
the hearts of their neighbors. America is full of critics who are making haste to 
discover that these people will not send their songs ringing down the corridor of 
time. But the real test of the democracy is whether their music is all-conquering 
for beauty in the local corridors of the Public School and the City Hall. The true 
ambition of the American Poet is not to serve this day or this month ... his 
ambition should be to serve well the next sixty years — and if his songs live with 
him — as a part of his natural voice — he should be well content that his songs 
should be buried with him. as most good preacher's sermons are— and as the 
speeches of most statesmen are.^' 

Even isolated poets can begin to change the reality they live in; but 
Lindsay keeps dreaming of a unification of the efforts of all American poets: 

Each poet is now isolated and if possible surrounded by a separate court of fat 
lady flatterers and they are kept strictly parlor poets because it was discovered 
they had almost become fearless statesmen 1912-1918 and that would never do. 
Between elections and on non-partizan issues every one of the twenty from 
Robinson to Robinson Jeffers is entitled to his full place as' a citizen. And all these 
noble men who were once friends have been flattered into snuffing at one another 
so that no message of the whole group would have direct impact upon the 
people. 42 

And to save the nation the artists have to seize power, somehow. Either the 
means to take hold of the country's imagination— access to the media and to 
the major occasions when the people, gathered, will listen— must be made 
available to them, or power must be arrived at by more familiar means. 
Lindsay once said, "I am through with all politics except that of putting artists 
in office by any decent means. "43 Only when some of them are elected can 
work begin on the very stuff the nation is made of. 

As the foregoing discussion shows, Lindsay felt that the United States did 
not live up to its historical standards. He witnessed the beginning of a deep 
crisis, and tried to stem the national schism between soil and soul with what 
means he had. It is evident that he had a higher conscience about his national 
duty than any other poet since Whitman; that he discovered and explored 
more of the American consciousness than is usually deemed the case; and that 
his relevance to our time— greater than can be fully explained here— can be 
appreciated both by the man in the street and the researcher in poetic theory. 



Appreciation is extended to all those persons, collections, and libraries who kindly 
allowed use of unpublished Vachel Lin Isay material. General permission from the Lindsay 
Estate has been granted by Nicholas Cave Lindsay. 

Letter to Stephen Graham, 9 Feb. 1921, microfilm. Humanities Research Center, 
Univ. of Texas at Austin. 

See The Litany of Washington Street (New York: Macmillan, 1929). 

From an unpublished manuscript by Vachel Lindsay entitled "The Greatest Movies 
Now Running," II, 195, in Box 14 of the Nicholas Vachel Lindsay Collection in the Clifton 
Waller Barrett Library of the University of Virginia Library. Hereafter this collection will be 
cited as Univ. of Virginia Library. 

Letter to Witter Bynner, 1 Feb. 1923, Harvard Univ. Library. 
" Letter to Harriet Moody, 22 Dec. 1922, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

Quoted in Eleanor Ruggles, The West-Going Heart (New York: Norton, 1959), p. 269. 

Letter to Harriet Moody, 2 April 1925. Univ. of Virginia Library. 

Quoted by Edgar Lee Masters, American Mercury. July 1933, p. 304. 

'^ Letter to Moody, 2 April 1925. 

Letter to Sara Teasdale, 27 April 1914, Collection of American Literature, Beinecke 
Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Used with permission of Margaret 

"Lumberjack Philosophy," Spokane Chronicle. 9 Jan. 1929. 

Letter to Professor Paul, 19 Feb. 1912. Univ. of Virginia Library. 

^^ "Sons of the Middle West," TMS Poems 1905-1930, Box 15, Univ. of Virginia 

"Disciples" Notebook, Box 20, Univ. of Virginia Library, p. 16. 

"English Trip" Notebook, 1906, Box 20, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

'" See Michael Yatron, America's Literarv Revolt (New York: Philosophical Libran. 

Letter to Harriet Monroe, 18 June 1926. Univ. of Chicago. 

^^ Quoted in Yatron. p. 90. 

1 9 

Letter to "Roy." 24 Feb. 1920, Vachel Lindsay Home. Springfield. Used with 

permission of the Vachel Lindsay Association. 

2^ Date-book 1922. Box 23. Univ. of Virginia Library. 

"A Sermon for Strangers," in his War Bulletin No. ///(Springfield, 111.: n.p.. 1909). 

"The United States of America Dance." Miscellaneous Unpublished Poems. Univ. of 
Virginia Librar>. 

Letter to John Weatherwax. 21 March 1928, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

^ "Springfield as an International Dream" (1926). Box 16, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

"Adventures While Singing These Songs." in Collected Poems (New York: 
Macmillan. 1925), p. 10. 

■^° Letter to Kermit Roosevelt. 24 Aug. 1928. Univ. of Virginia Library. 

- Date-book 1922. Box 23, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

-^ "Art Institute" Notebook. 1901. Box 20. Univ. of Virginia Librarv, pp. 119-20. 


Letter to A. Joseph Armstrong. 10 Oct. 1921. Armstrong Browning Librar> . Baylor 


^^ The Village Magazine (Springfield, 111.: Jeffersons Printing Co.. 1910), p. 75. 
'^' Ibid., p. 76. 


^^ Letter to Erich Possett, 19 June 1928, Univ. of Chicago. 

^^ Letter to John Drinkwater, 16 Feb. 1925, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

Notebook 49, 1926, Box 24, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

Letter (not sent) to Joseph Anthony, 3 April 1928, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

^ "Springfield As an International Dream," Box 16. Univ. of Virginia Library. 

^^ Letter to Possett, 19 June 1928. 

^ Every Soul Is a Circus (New York: Macmillan, 1929), p. 39. 

"Things go at a hotter clip every minute. Of course, there is poetry in this. But can I 
respond to it? And ought I? Can I stride the steam engine and go puffing over the praries 
[sic]?" Letter to Susan Wilcox, 1 May 1905, Vachel Lindsay Home. These questions are as 
close to an interrogation on the worth of Futurism as Vachel Lindsay ever got. However they 
indicate the type of concession that was made in the course of the production of such poems 
as "The Santa Fe Trail" or "The Kallyope Yell." 

"The Greatest Movies Now Running," II, 90 and 130. 

Date-book No. 10, 1916, Box 23, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

Letter to Pierce Cummings, 5 Aug. 1927, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

■^ Date-book No. 4, 1921, Box 23, Univ. of Virginia Library. 

Edgar Lee Masters: The Lawyer as Writer 


Recalling in old age his years of practicing law before Spoon River 
Anthology gave him a name as a poet, Edgar Lee Masters compared himself to 
writers like Lamb and TroUope "who kept at grinding tasks and at literary 
creation too."l The comparison was appropriate, for his literary production 
was constant even at times when his practice was most demanding: "for many 
years I had practiced concentration. ... I could write, and turn to answer the 
telephone to talk about a case, and turn back and finish the poem. "2 The 
drudgery of Masters' lawyership, however, gave him more than a livelihood. 
The law and its practice by himself and others of his circle of experience was a 
fundamental influence upon his literary works. In his canon, in fact, the law is 
perhaps second only in weight of influence to the locale of his boyhood and 
young manhood in central Illinois. Masters himself said of the time when he 
wrote Spoon River, that he was "drawing upon a fund of stories which had 
been accumulating for twenty years in the country and in the practice of law in 
Chicago. "3 

Masters was a lawyer for a quarter-century before writing Spoon River in 
1914 and 1915, but the success and notoriety of the book led him gradually to 
abandon his practice during the next decade. He was the author of 12 obscure 
books and several pamphlets before Spoon River, and afterwards, his literary 
production accelerated. The law contributed not only source material for much 
of this work, but also the inquiring turn of mind and self-discipline that enabled 
him to bring forth steadily a vast amount of poetry and prose. 

Preliminary to a discussion of Masters' works, the following biographical 
survey— emphasizing his experience with the law-— will identify many of the 
events, personalities, and attitudes which bear a direct relationship to his 
literary output. 

First of all, the environment of his youth included considerable exposure to 
lawyers and the law in county seat locations. Masters drew extensively upon 
the career of his father, Hardin Wallace Masters (1845-1925), whose practice 
over 55 years ranged from crude courtrooms in frontier Kansas to the ornate 
chambers of the Illinois Supreme Court.4 The elder Masters also was a 
regional force in Democratic politics, and a holder of numerous county, 



municipal, and civic offices. The son's funeral tribute to the father included 
these impassioned assessments of the lawyer and the man: 

He hated injustice he had a genius tcr being the intercessor, and without reward 
and sometimes without gratitude he gave his time and his money to people 
trapped in the iate ot circumstances. ... He was a rare combination of play bov. 
strong man. story-teller, hard liver, keen lawyer, democrat, stroller, talker and 
laugher through this world, hopeful that democracy would finally win. that life 
would work out well enough if not for the best. . . .^ 

Hardin Wallace Masters is the only known attorney among Edgar Lee 
Masters' direct forebears, but the grandfather of the poet was not 
unacquainted with legal matters. Squire Davis Masters (1812-1904), a farmer, 
was at various times an Illinois state legislator, a justice of the peace who once 
presided at a case in which Abraham Lincoln participated, and guardian to 
some of the unfortunates in the Sandridge community north of Petersburg. 
The grandfathers real influence was in the self-reliant agrarian political 
outlook of his southern origins. This was passed on to his son and grandson, 
along with a humanistic sense of justice and individual responsibility. The 
poet's last tribute to his Tennessee-born grandfather noted the qualities which 
made him a life-long model to his descendants as they contended with more 
complex milieus: 

He was a Jeffersonian Democrat, and a devoted adherent to the causes of Jackson. 
. . . His nature was a touching blend ot simple piety and human love, good will, 
courage, hopefulness, prudent judgment in the business affairs of farming, 
industry, fair dealing with everyone. ' 

In the villages of Masters' youth, Petersburg and Lewistown, the epic 
careers of the lawyers of the Lincoln period in the 1840's and 1850's were well- 
remembered. These communities, particularly Lewistown where Hardin 
Masters resided from 1880 to 1906, provided scenes of spirited litigation and 
contacts with colorful, contentious representatives of the bar in Edgar Lee 
Masters' youth. He followed the struggles not only through his apprenticeship 
in his father's office, but also as interim editor of one of Lewistown's several 
partisan newspapers. 

Masters' direct contact with legal work began at age 17, in 1885. During the 
next six years at intervals he was "helping my father in his law office" and, at 
his parent's insistence, reading from elementary law volumes by Blackstone. 
Chitty, Greenleaf. and Bentham. After a year of college preparatory classes 
(unrelated to law) and an unpleasant few months as a rural schoolteacher, 
Masters reconcilied himself to law as a career. He crammed with the son of a 
scholarly Lewistown attorney and passed the bar examination in Springfield in 
May. 1891. His rank was first in a class of 60 aspirants, according to his 
account.* Later that summer he tried unsuccessfully to establish himself with 
two law firms in Minneapolis but returned to Lewistown to accept a $5-a-week 
partnership with his father. During the next year he seems to have performed 
principally such minor legal chores as abstracting court records. 

Hoping for a newspaper job. Masters moved to Chicago on July 20, 1892, 
carrying letters of introduction from his father to two railroad corporation 


attorneys with whom Hardin Masters was acquainted. One of the attorneys 
and a judge helped Edgar Lee Masters get a post as collector and justice court 
lawyer for the Edison Company, controlled by magnate Samuel Insull. Then on 
May 1, 1893, Masters became a member of a new firm. One partner was Ernest 
McGaffey, an attorney of inconsistent performance but a poet of some skill 
whose contacts with publishers would be helpful to Masters. The other was 
Kickham Scanlan, who had close ties with Chicago's Irish community and the 
city's political power structure, labor interests, and established legal firms. 
Scanlan later was a circuit and appellate judge. 

McGaffey was first to leave the partnership, apparently in 1896 after 
carelessly allowing a railroad case to be lost through inattention to the statute 
of limitations. The combination of Masters and Scanlan proved prosperous but 
not always congenial, and they parted early in 1903 after a disagreement as to 
Masters' handling of a labor arbitration. 12 The busiest and most publicly- 
known period of Masters' practice started in April, 1903, when his troubled 
partnership with famed criminal defense attorney Clarence S. Darrow began. 
During the next eight years. Masters conceded, Darrow "gave me free hand to 
run the office according to my judgment." In fact, Darrow was absent 
frequently on lecture tours and major cases, including a two-year period in 
1907 and 1908 for trials in the bitter Western Federation of Miners dispute. 
The association ended abruptly in the spring of 1911 when Masters and the 
firm's junior partner, Francis S. Wilson (later an Illinois Supreme Court 
justice), opposed Darrow's decision to go to California to defend the 
McNamara brothers in the dynamiting of the THmes building in Los Angeles. 
Masters' bitterness toward Darrow was heightened later when Darrow was a 
legal participant in the separation and divorce controversies between Masters 
and his first wife. 13 

Masters appears to have made good choices in partners as far as advancing 
his own career was concerned, but his sensitivities and abrasive temperament 
made sustaining any such relationship difficult: "As a lawyer I had few 
intimate friends; those who were my equals differed from me in politics and in 
philosophies of life. ... I have always played a lone hand as a lawyer and a 
writer. . . ."14 

After the split. Masters had no more partners but maintained a busy 
practice, chiefly civil. He lobbied without success for appointment as a federal 
judge in 1913 and 1914. Then came Spoon River. After writing it, he was 
involved in several major cases, but his increasing emphasis on literary 
production, his domestic turmoil, and his footloose condition combined to 
reduce his practice. As late as 1923 he maintained an office in Chicago, but in 
the fall of that year he moved permanently to New York, where he seems not 
to have attempted any more legal work. Masters' frustrations in the period of 
his divorce litigation and declining practice are portrayed directly in his 1924 
novel Mirage , which tells of long days of idle reading and brooding in a law 
office after the book's protagonist experienced similar career-shattering 
incidents, 15 


Masters' legal career had an enormous impact upon his writing. This is in 
spite of the fact that his attitude about the law was at best ambivalent, even in 


his years of greatest success in the field. It was only after a protracted contest 
of wills with his father that he even agreed in 1891 to seek an attorney's 
license. Then, with fatahstic determination, he began "pursuing my law 
studies with the same concentration which I had given to Greek and to 
literature. "16 The struggle and resolution are reflected in verses of his early 
period, particularly in the last lines of "Farewell Muses," the closing poem in 
his first volume, A Book of Verses. The 1898 collection consists principally of 
poems he composed for newspaper publication before coming to Chicago. The 
lines appear to be a recognition of the limits of his achievement in poetry at the 
time, and of the need for putting it aside for practical necessities: 

But all spent sheaves, 
My Muse retrieves. 
She fashions and weaves 

With wheatless straw. 
Whilst ye were thieves 
Of my days and eves — 
So my bosom heaves 

For Themis— the law! 1 

Masters had a long creative distance to go before he could capture in 
sardonically effective verse the essence of an individual, as he did throughout 
Spoon River. An early attempt was "An Ancient Jurist" in A Book of Verses, 
probably drawn from his experiences before the urban bench: 

There was a jurist in the days of old 
Whom grace of Fate made judge, it was a pity! 
Some said that he was learned in Coke and Chitty, 
And therefore had a right to roar and scold 
And babble in a manner manifold. 1° 

Understandably, then, it was as an essayist, not as a poet, that Masters 
first won a measure of literary notoriety. His scholarship in legal, economic, 
and political fields was spurred in part by the cases he was encountering, but 
more so by the great events and controversies of the period. The populist bias 
and humanitarian sentiments he had inherted from his father and grandfather 
now matured into a political philosophy which he really never abandoned 
throughout the rest of his life. Masters recalled the most significant 
direction-making influences in this way: 

The agrarian movement under Bryan started me toward a third period, a third 
pattern in my life. All my studies, Shelleyan, philosophical and scientific, became 
living flame in 1896. But it was not until 1898 and 1900 that another whorl of my 
growth appeared. When I saw imperialism take the Republic I drew my sword for 
a fight. It was then that I took to vast studies again, determined to rout this 
anachronism, and to do it with such learning that I could not be gainsaid.'" 

The decade of the 1890's was indeed a momentous time in legal circles in 
Chicago and the state, with lawyers and governmental officials ranged on 
various sides of the issues. Masters' practice and social contacts made him 
acquainted with the principal figures in many of the controversies. He argued 
cases before Judge Joseph E. Gary, who had sentenced to death five 
anarchists arrested after a bomb exploded in Haymarket Square on May 4, 


1886. Masters collaborated in drawing up bar association by-laws with ex- 
Governor John Peter Altgeld, whose career was ruined when he pardoned 
other anarchists who were sentenced to prison terms after the same trial (the 
thrower of the bomb was never identified). Altgeld also had opposed the 
intervention of federal troops in the bloody Pullman strike of 1894, and Darrow 
had represented Eugene Debs, who had sought to organize the Pullman 
workers into a union to win decent pay and hours. Then there was Scanlan, 
whose relatives were cogs in the political machine through which such Chicago 
aldermen as Bathhouse John Coughlin and Michael (Hinky Dink) Kenna reaped 
the favors offered by such entrepreneurs as InsuU and street railroad pro- 
moter Charles T. Yerkes. Figures of national import, too, came into Masters' 
life. As a guest of his father, a delegate to the 1896 Democratic convention in 
Chicago, Masters saw William Jennings Bryan at the young Nebraskan's 
greatest moment, the delivery of the "Cross of Gold" speech. The appeal made 
Bryan almost a literal god to young men of populist-progressive leanings, like 
Masters. The image tarnished, and Bryan's fundamentalistic stands on religion 
and alcohol eventually finished him with Masters. Bryan, in Masters' eyes, was 
a traitor to his own cause: "We thus gave ourselves to him, and then he left 
us— not immediately, but gradually, for the germ of his defection was in him 
from the first. "20 

To Masters' disgust, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt triumphed over 
Bryan's presidential efforts, as the nation embarked on imperialistic 
acquisitions of territory. Masters lacked the prestige to make his opposition 
felt directly. His own tentative efforts to seek political office (in the Illinois 
General Assembly) were curbed "when I consulted the reform leaders, those 
who were talking about purging the legislature of corruption, I found these 
pretenders wanted men more complaisant than I was, and I was turned away 
here." His recourse was to turn pamphleteer to expound his beliefs, not only 
in prose but also in poetry and dramatic works as well. 

After 1898 Masters wrote many essays on contemporary questions, 
including judicial matters. The earliest were published in such radical organs 
as the Chicago Chronicle and Tom Watson's Magazine, or as pamphlets. 
Masters' contention that forcible acquisition of foreign territory violated 
constitutional principles was a theme running through many essays. Some 
were based on briefs Masters had prepared for his arguments in cases where 
labor interests or free speech questions were at stake. After his meeting in 
1906 with William Marion Reedy, publisher of a weekly St. Louis magazine. 
Masters contributed many essays on legal and political matters and 
personalities to Reedy 's Mirror (Reedy would publish Spoon River serially 
from May 29, 1914, to January 15, 1915). In later years Masters wrote other 
polemic essays for such magazines as Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, American 
Mercury and New Republic. 

Except for an early collection. The New Star Chamber and Other Essays, 
the essays have not been gathered, but some, like those on Altgeld and Bryan, 
have become standard references. Masters' essays are an exhaustive canon in 
their own right, and have been studied in depth by Lois Hartley and Michael 
Yatron. If there can be any general summary of the attitude conveyed by 
these essays, it might be this from Masters' "Observations on Democracy": 


It follows from what has been said that the components of democracy are the free 
city, the free township, the free county and the free state, co-operating in a 
synthetic process to the national government. This is the ideal of democracy. 
There can be no republic without it. 23 

Masters also wrote at least two formal essays on the law which have 
escaped scholarly attention. They appeared in the Illinois Law Review, an 
organ of Northwestern University, in 1910 and 1912. Like the articles he 
wrote for popular consumption, these essays reflect several qualities of his 
legal career: his tendency to feel affronted personally by adverse decisions, his 
resistance to judicial innovations infringing upon individual rights, and his 
doggedly logical building of arguments upon conservative interpretations of 
state and national constitutions— even in radical causes! 

In the first article Masters attacks the increasing tendency of appellate and 
state supreme court justices to make judgments on questions which, in his 
view, should be decided by juries. The trend constituted an usurpation of the 
function of trial courts, Masters contended. The second article is drawn from 
the resources of Masters' own practice, particularly the bitter litigation 
following the Kellogg factory strike of 1903. He vehemently protests recent 
decisions by the state supreme court placing prohibitions or restrictions on the 
rights of accused persons to sue for liberty or a hearing. He urges a judiciary 
that can, in the face of powerful industrial and popular pressures, act with 
understanding of the past and future and "with courage and equanimity 
enough to keep . . . above the fears and prejudices of the moment." 

The real importance of the essays and the studies that went into them, as 
Masters himself realized later, was in his growth of understanding of motives 
and behavior — which gave verisimilitude to Spoon River and other poetical 
works: he said the scholarship "laid the foundation for many things in Spoon 
River Anthology, (or Domesday Book, and for many poems of people. Little as 
they [the studies and essays] seemed to bear upon the art of poetry, they had 
their use at last and their influence for what turned out to be my real 

In the earliest period of his pamphleteering. Masters' interest in questions 
of constitutional law resulted not only in essays but also in the play 
Maximilian. It was published by the same Boston firm that had prepared 
editions of McGaffey's poems. The plot is drawn from the French attempt to 
conquer Mexico in the 1860's, but the parallel with the contemporary 
American adventures in the Caribbean and Philippines was obvious. 27 

There were poems, too, with a new strength of didactic purpose in Masters' 
protests against the foreign acquisitions and of inroads upon individual rights 
by judicial rulings. In a 1905 collection was the poem "Banner of Men Who 
Were Free," employing an image he would return to more effectively in Spoon 

Flag of a noble race, no longer our flag in truth. 

Borne by a hostile hand in a cause of shame. 
Give us the banner that flapped in the eyes of the nation's youth 

And sent a thrill through the world of its faultless famel^S 

Looking forward for a moment, we can find the same symbol vividly and 


concisely used in Spoon River in the words of a soldier, "Harry Wilmans," who 
enlisted to subdue the Filipinos in response to a flag-invoking speech by the 
Sunday School superintendent. The campaign was a thing of degradation and 
horror, with 

. . . days of loathing and nights of fear 

To the hour of the charge through the steaming swamp, 

Following the flag, 

Till I fell with a scream, shot through the guts. 

Now there's a flag over me in Spoon River! 

A flag! A flag!29 

The 1905 collection also conta led verses concerning the plight of the 
individual in conflict with pow ful interests suppcted by the judicial 
structure. He presented Christ as s.ich an individualist in "The Ballad of Jesus 
of Nazareth" — as a man who "smote the lawyer's lore" which oppressed 
wretched and burdened men: 

Therefore when that the hour was come 

For him to die, they blent 
Of many things a lying charge. 

But at last the argument 
They killed him with was that he stirred 

The people's discontent. ^0 

There were two more privately -printed books of poetry that came before 
Spoon River. They were published at a time when Masters was disenchanted 
with politics and deeply involved in a love affair. They contain little reference 
to his career, except in lines showing world-weariness with prospects for any 
progT'ess in justice, and a desire to retreat into a sensual nirvana: 

The rocking world went spinning on; 
The game was lost, the game was won. 
The tale was told, the tale begun. 

And tyranny did thrive; the crust 

Was wet with tears and grimed with dust. 

The unjust flourished with the just. 

The rocking world — ah giant fate! 

What is the broad way, what the straight? 

Love me and walk through heaven's gate. -'I 

Masters' romantic entanglements, rather than his experiences at law, also 
dominate the recognizable biographical material in six plays he wrote during 
this period. He was hoping for a financial windfall that would allow him to 
devote more time to poetry. However, not one of the plays— Althea (1907), 
The Trifler (1908), The Leaves of the Tree (1909), Eileen (1910), The Locket 
(1910), and The Bread of Idleness (1911)— ever was produced. 

None of the principal characters in any of the plays is a lawyer, and the 
dramas are largely social in content. However, Masters' legal experience is 
reflected in several ways — in some of the machinery of the main plots and 
subplots, in a few secondary characters who are lawyers or involved in legal 
struggles, and in the names of some characters. (The latter aspect foresaw the 


occasionally malicious strategy of emotion-provoking nomenclature that 
Masters would use with decisive effect in the two Spoon River volumes.) The 
legal references in the plays include the efforts of a dying publisher to get his 
wife to sign a will agreement to forego future marriage, as one element of the 
plot ofAlthea. A factory strike and labor negotiations are part of the story line 
of The Bread of Idleness, and a subplot in The Leaves of the Tree tells of the 
efforts of a maimed worker to win compensation from a railroad. Also, efforts 
by women to achieve independent livelihood in the face of legal obstacles in a 
male-dominated society crop up in several of the plays (Masters' mistress, 
Tennessee Mitchell, was a piano tuner and music teacher). And the names 
Masters invented with real lawyers in mind may include Albert Barton, a 
secondary character in Althea. Barton, an attorney, woos a coolly respectable 
woman named Helen Goodrich, and his name could have been drawn from that 
of a prominent Chicago judge, John Barton Payne, in whose social circle 
Masters met his first wife, Helen Jenkins. Likewise, the principal male 
character in The Trifler is a banker named Laflin Leland, whose given name 
may have been suggested by Masters' acquaintance with Luther Laflin Mills, a 
well-known orator in Chicago and senior partner in the law firm in which 
Scanlan and McGaffey served before their partnership with Masters. 

Turning to his fiction, the law and the machinations of attorneys gave 
Masters essential material for the six novels he wrote in the 1920's and for 
another written in 1937. There are four largely autobiographical novels— 
Mitch Miller (1920), Skeeters Kirby (1923), Mirage (1924), and Kit O'Brien 
(1927)— in which many incidents and characters reflect the legal careers and 
personal lives of Masters and his father. An historical novel. Children of the 
Market Place (1922), has Illinois attorney Stephen Douglas as its central 
character. The Tide of Time (1937) is a biography in fiction of Hardin Wallace 
Masters' youth and public career, into which some of his son's experiences 
were interpolated. The novel lacks only the pathos of the elder Masters' 
turbulent domestic life, and that is supplied vividly in The Nuptial Flight 
(1923), the only one of the novels in which the principal character is not an 
attorney. Instead, he is a country newspaper editor, but with a purple prose 
style similar to the stump speeches of a small-town lawyer. 

For a number of other works Masters drew heavily either on the 
circumstances of his practice or on his concepts of law. Two of the five 
biographies Masters wrote between 1927 and 1938 are about lawyers — the 
commissioned biography about his prosperous contemporary in Chicago, Levy 
Mayer, and Lincoln: The Man, a debunking work in which Masters used every 
constitutional law argument he could muster. Masters also found room for 
arguments in favor of Jeffersonian principles in biographies of three literary 
figures: Whitman, Vachel Lindsay, and Mark Twain. The action in Masters' 
verse novel, Domesday Book (1920), and its sequel. The Fate of the Jury 
(1929), revolves around a figure in the judicial structure, a coroner. And his 
long verse plays or book-length poems of the 1920's and 1930's, including Lee 
(1926), Jack Kelso (1928), Godbey (1931), Richmond (1934), and The New 
World (1937), restate his agrarian bias and quarrel with constitutional 

His verse collections after Spoon River totaled fifteen, containing much the 
same material in a variety of poems, including many sketches of lawyers. 


famous and obscure. At one end of the range of these portraits is the derisive 
judgment of Darrow in "On a Bust," which appeared in the first collection after 
Spoon River. It begins, 

Your speeches seemed to answer for the nonce — 

They do not justify your head in bronze! 

Your essays! talent's failures were to you 

Your philosophic gamut, but things true, 

Or beautiful, oh never! What's the pons 

For you to cross to fame?— Your head in bronze?32 

At the other extreme is the compassionate tribute to an ill-starred country 
lawyer, "Cassius Graccus Johnson," in Masters' last collection. The individual, 
like Darrow, was real, and had been sketched before in Spoon River's 
"Harmon Whitney" and "Cassius Hueffer": 

You led such a life that the churches 
Thrust you forth into darkness alone; 
But the lawyers here wrote an inscription. 
And bought you a suitable stone. . . . 

And of all dead men that I know of 
In the village, it can truly be said 
That your humor that ended with silence 
Makes it, somehow, a good to be dead." 


In the last analysis, however, it was in Spoon River Anthology, the most 
original and enduring of Masters' books, that his knowledge of law and of 
lawyers was most creatively utilized. The poems that make up the content 
usually have been called "epitaphs" since their words purportedly are spoken 
by the dead or appear on tombstones. The epitaphs, the introductory poem, 
and an epilogue called "The Spooniad" refer to 269 persons by name or title. At 
least 19 are attorneys, by far the largest occupational group represented. 
Another 10 or more attorneys are represented or mentioned in the epitaphs of 
The New Spoon River, which also must be considered here since some of its 
controversies and personalities are carried over from the first volume. 

There was plenty of legal work in the village of Spoon River in the first 
book. As Dr. William J. Ford has pointed out, violent death was not 
uncommon. The 243 epitaphs and "The Spooniad" tell of six homicides, two 
hangings, seven suicides, a death by abortion, and 13 accidental deaths. "^^ All 
these did not occur in the village, but all had their roots there. In addition, the 
tone concerning untimely death is set in the introduction, "The Hill," in which 
at least six deaths due to violence or unusual circumstances are referred to: 

One was burned in a mine, 

One was killed in a brawl. 

One died in a jail, 

One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife. . . . 


But civil strife rather than violence gave lawyers the bulk of their 
occupational activity in Spoon River. Here is where the insights from Masters' 
25 years of study and practice of law broadened the banal matters of local 
historical record to something recognizably general. He had a concept of the 
universality of his subject as early as 1906, when he told his father he was 
contemplating writing a novel in the vein that Spoon River eventually would 
follow: "... Chicago had shown me that the country lawyer and the city lawyer 
were essentially the same; that the country banker and the city banker had the 
same nature; and so on down the list of tradespeople, preachers, sensualists, 
and all kinds of human beings. "^^ It was Masters' purpose, as the tale of Spoon 
River began unraveling week by week in the pages of Reedy 's Mirror, to 
"draw the macrocosm" by portraying the microcosm. 36 

The legal snarls of the larger world where Masters had been in contention 
were telescoped into the local scene of Spoon River. To some extent, the power 
structures of the urban government and judiciary, the financial empires, giant 
factories and great switching yards were transposed into the village council 
and justice court, the bank, the canning works, and the "Q" Railroad. In 
addition, there were individuals in Spoon River representative of lawyers and 
judges Masters had encountered in Chicago. The vague plot structure of Spoon 
River contains relatively clear sequences about village politics and economics, 
in which the same issues at stake in the larger scene are argued and reargued. 
In these sequences two opposing figures of epic proportions emerge. One is the 
liberal lawyer-politician, under such guises as "John Cabanis," "Jefferson 
Howard," "Kinsey Keene," "E. C. Culbertson," or "Benjamin Pantier." The 
other is the well-to-do conservative moralist office-holder, represented by 
such characters as "Thomas Rhodes" (merchant-financier), "A. D. Blood" 
(mayor), "Henry Phipps" (banker-Sunday School superintendent) and "Editor 
Whedon" (corrupt journalist). 

Village politics, economics, and litigation might seem a narrow ground for 
advancing a philosophy of humanism as Masters did by maintaining that the 
elevation of mankind proceeds through the cycles of many lives. The speaker 
in the epitaph "John Cabanis," however, thinks the field is sufficient for the 
cause (in "The Spooniad" he is identified as the liberal's candidate for mayor 
against "A. D. Blood"): 

Fellow citizens! I saw as one with second sight 

That every man of the millions of men 

Who give themselves to Freedom, 

And fail when Freedom fails. 

Enduring waste and lawlessness. 

And the rule ot the weak and the blind. 

Dies in the hope of building earth. 

Like a coral insect, for the temple 

To stand on at the last. 

In the civic struggles, some attorneys like "Jefferson Howard" and "Kinsey 
Keene" (both have attributes of Hardin Wallace Masters) are overcome but 
defiant to the last. Other leaders, like "Harry Carey Goodhue" abandon the 
battle and go over to the enemy vindictively: 


... do you remember. 

That staggering up from the wreck of defeat. 

And the wreck of a ruined career. 

I sHpped from my cloak my last ideal. 

Hidden from all eyes until then. 

Like the cherished jawbone of an ass. 

And smote the bank and the water works. 

And the business men with prohibition. 

And made Spoon River pay the cost 

Of the fights that I had lost? 

Many studies have noted that Masters drew material for Spoon River from 
actual events in Lewistown and Petersburg, and from his father's roles in 
several controversies. These included bank failures in both villages, the 
burning of the Fulton County Courthouse on December 14, 1894, and a trial of 
the arsonists and legal battle on building a new courthouse. The fight 
concerning local-option prohibition was at its height around the turn of the 
century when Hardin Masters was Lewistown' s mayor. If Masters used these 
local contests and their contestants as overt vehicles for Spoon River, the 
content of the epitaphs also reflects his own court struggles in behalf of the 
weak and unlearned, victimized by ruthless opportunists; for the rights of 
strikers or of injured workers denied compensation; and in estate cases. There 
also are references to lawyers and political leaders Masters was meeting in 
Chicago— Altgeld is referred to by name in several epitaphs and is the model 
for "Herman Altman." 

The epitaph of "W. Lloyd Garrison Standard." for example, seems to 
embody Masters" attitude toward the ambiguities of such reformers as Darrow 
and Bryan. He considered both to be shallow beneath impressive veneer, as 
the attorney who defended "the patriot scamps who burned the court house" 

Vegetarian, non-resistant, free-thinker, in ethics a Christian; 

Orator apt at the rhine-stone rhythm of Ingersoll: 

Carnivorous, avenger, believer and pagan; 

Continent, promiscuous, changeable, treacherous, vain. 

Proud, with the pride that makes struggle a thing for laughter; 

With hean cored out by the worm of theatric despair; 

Wearing the coat of indifference to hide the shame of defeat. . . . 

The case is more plainly stated in The New Spoon River, where Masters 
gave more direct editorial judgments— in his own voice, in contrast to the 
strategy of the earlier book— on the confused idealism he saw in Darrow and 
Bryan and their disciples. Darrow became "Louis Raguse": 

. . . the idol of the back-hall, being plain. 

Unclean, pathetic and weary looking like Jesus. 

All the while his safety box was full of bonds. 

He understood the criminal mind; 

He fathomed the hate of the poor. 

But he loathed charity; let the poor unite against the rich. 

He was neither a master man nor a martyr. 

He was a sophisticate Caliban. 

He longed tor lame, he had notoriety. 


And Bryan became "Silas Jennings," showing Masters' disgust that his early 
idol had lapsed into impotence by supporting such issues as religious 
fundamentalism and national prohibition: 

A democrat! 

A believer in the rule of the people! 

An agitator for laws to be made by the people 

To control greed, injustice; 

Then an agitator for laws to be made by the people 

To control tastes, thoughts, expressions. 

A democrat become a despot. 

Denying the equal rights of souls before the law of the soul. 

And violating that inner democracy 

Through which souls are equal as to beliefs, 

Tastes, expressions, joys, wisdoms, visions of life. 

One source for suggesting how much of Masters' own court experience and 
contacts went into Spoon River has gone unnoticed in virtually all studies of 
the work, although Masters himself called attention to the source in his 
autobiography: "The reports of the Supreme Court of Illinois show my varied 
activities in that court over a period of many years. "^' It is an impressive 
record, but difficult to decipher. The published reports of the Illinois Supreme 
Court and Illinois Appellate courts are indexed in many ways, but not by the 
names of the lawyers who participated in the cases. For a study not yet 
completed, I have located about 100 cases in which Masters (or his firm during 
the time of his several partnerships) participated, or in which his father or 
brother were involved between 1895 and 1920. A preliminary tabulation 
indicates that Edgar Lee Masters pleaded at least 40 cases before the state 
high court between 1895 and 1919. Most of these cases came before Spoon 
River was written, the major portion while he was associated with Darrow. 

The opinions offer clues to his attitudes and sources, and confirm his own 
testimony and that of Carl Sandburg that Masters was heavily burdened with 
legal matters at the time Spoon River was written. Sandburg wrote: 

1 saw Masters write this book. He wrote it in snatched moments between 
fighting injunctions against a waitresses union striving for the right to picket and 
gain one day's rest a week, battling from court to court for compensation to a 
railroad engineer rendered a loathsome cripple by the defective machinery of a 
locomotive, having his life amid affairs as intense as those he writes of.^'S 

Masters, as has been noted, had a significant practice as a labor attorney. 
The peak of it probably was in his defense of workers arrested in the Kellogg 
factory strike of 1903. He took over the defense when Darrow departed 
unexpectedly for Europe on a honeymoon. The strike echoed the Pullman 
works stoppage, with many of the issues the same: the powers of government 
by judicial injunction, labor's struggle for a closed shop, violence on the picket 
line, and retribution against workers. The brief Masters wrote for the Illinois 
Supreme Court became first a pamphlet and later the title essay in The New 
Star Chamber.^^ 

Such labor turmoil is referred to in Spoon River epitaphs dealing with the 
rise of industrialists like "Anthony Findlay." First, "John Hancock Otis" 
recalls that the contemporary of his youth, who rose 


To the superintendency of the railroad. 

Living in Chicago, 

Was a veritable slave driver, 

Grinding the faces of labor. 

And a bitter enemy of democracy. 

Findlay adds, in his own epitaph: 

I, Anthony Findlay, rising to greatness 

From a humble water carrier. 

Until I could say to thousands "Come," 

And say to thousands "Go," 

Affirm that a nation can never be good, 

Or achieve t!ie good, 

Where the strong and the wise have not the rod 

To use on the dull and weak. 

As the tenacles of industrialism spread, a strong and oppressive judiciary 
further supported corporate interests against those of the individual, as The 
New Spoon River's "Joseph Meek" finds: 

Did I not see the righteous scowls of the Circuit Judge, 

And read the bitter exaggerations of the editors. 

When proof was made that union sluggers 

Were paid five dollars a day to slug the scabs? 

•And yet in this same court. 

And amid the silence of the press, 

And with the aid of the same judge 

I was ruined in my little business 

By the canning works in a suit in equity 

Whose lawyer was paid five hundred dollars. . . . 

The case of the injured engineer referred to by Sandburg was for an injury 
that occurred August 12, 1907. A $15,000 judgment finally was affirmed by the 
Illinois Supreme Court on February 17, 1915.40 it was one of dozens of worker 
compensation or personal injury suits Masters fought. Corporations contested 
these matters tenaciously, even when settlements were small, to avoid 
precedents. Masters recalled, "I met the hard, shrewd, money-grabbing 
corporation and business lawyers on their own gjound, and fought them toe to 
toe. Some of these now are millionaires, all are patriots, nearly all are 
Pharisees. As I would not have traded places with them then, much less would 
I do so now. "41 

Such an attorney, in Masters' view, was Spoon River's John M. Church, 
who represented the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and other 
industrial and financial concerns that had the power to control the courts: 

I was attorney for the "0 

And the Indemnity Company which insured 

The owners of the mine. 

I pulled the wires with judge and jury 

And the upper courts, to beat the claims 

Of the crippled, the widow and orphan. 

And made a fortune thereat. 

The principal Spoon River epitaph dealing with corporate and judicial 
indifference to the plight of an injured worker is " 'Butch' Weldy. " Butch, a 


reformed tough, had a job in which he had to fill a tank at the canning works 
with gasoline to feed blow-fires that heated soldering irons, 

And I mounted a rickety ladder to do it. 
Carrying buckets full of the stuff. 
One morning, as I stood there pouring. 
The air grew still and seemed to heave. 
And I shot up as the tank exploded. 
And down I came with both legs broken. 
And my eyes burned crisp as a couple of eggs. 
For someone left a biow-fire going. 
And something sucked the flame in the tank. 
The Circuit Judge said whoever did it 
Was a fellow -servant of mine, and so 
Old Rhodes' son didn't have to pay me. 

The epitaph echoes not only a fire in Lewistown in which a cannery controlled 
by the bank was destroyed, ^^ but also a number of Masters' cases. He iosi. 
early in his practice, an appellate court appeal in a case involving a worker who 
fell from a ladder. Masters represented a fellow worker who had summoned a 
doctor and been sued by the physician when the employer (a brewery) refused 
to pay the medical bill.'*'^ Masters lost an Illinois Supreme Court appeal on a 
case very similar to the " 'Butch' Weldy" incident, in which a brewery 
supervisor sought compensation for injuries sustained from the explosion of 
accumulated gas after he had been ordered to light drying stoves in 
newly varnished vats.'*'* The mjury cases seldom were settled speedily in this 
era— Masters had one involving the death of a factory worker who was 
knocked into an open elevator shaft that dragged on from 1903 to 1918.45 

Persons who suffered physical injury were not the only victims of legal 
machinations. Masters' second case before the Illinois Supreme Court was an 
appeal from an elderly Polish-born couple victimized by unscrupulous land 
dealers and their attorneys. The case "off and on took several years of my 
time," but the couple exhibited trust and patience for what eventually was a 
settlement, with only a $500 fee for him.'*" There is an impoverished farmer in 
Spoon River, with a name "Felix Schmidt" indicating foreign origins, who has 
a similar problem but less effective legal counsel. Felix owned five acres, and 

One day lawyer Whitney came along 
And proved to me that Christian Dallman, 
Who owned three thousand acres of land. 
Had bought the eighty that adjoined me 
In eighteen hundred and seventy-one 
For eleven dollars, at a sale for taxes. 
While my father lay m his mortal illness. 
So a quarrel arose and I went to law. 

Unlike Masters' clients, Felix "lost my case and lost my place." and had to go to 
work as Dallman's tenant. 

Property contentions in Masters' practice included many will cases. Loss of 
one of these contributed to his depression in the period just before he wrote 
Spoon River: "The winter of 1914 came and my bank account was again low. I 
had lost the Kellan will case after vast labor and Jake could not understand 


why the jury beat me.'"*' The case involved a contest between heirs and was 
decided by an Illinois Supreme Court opinion filed April 19, 1913. Masters 
drew interestingly on the case for the epitaph oi Spoon River's "Searcy Foote." 
The woman whose death brought the Kellan family dispute to court had 
suffered from Graves disease, characterized by an abnormal protrusion of a 
goiter in the throat area. Searcy's aunt, whose wealth he covets and whom he 
murders with chloroform without retribution, also had throat problems: 

. . . there was Aunt Persis more than seventy. 
Who sat in a wheel-chair halt alive. 
With her throat so paralyzed, when she swallowed 
The soup ran out of her mouth like a duck. . . . 

The legal references in epitaphs about violent crimes principally were 
based on cases handled by Masters' father, since Edgar Lee Masters had 
relatively little criminal practice. "Tom Merritt," "Mrs. Merritt," and "Elmer 
Karr,'" for example, are sequential epitaphs about marital infidelity, murder, 
and imprisonment. The sequence is based on a Fulton County murder-rape 
case that was a sensation in the poet's youth. Masters recognized the case as 
the one that gave his father "a reputation and put him in line for profitable law 

The "Jennie M'Grew" epitaph, with its hints of violent death in a rural 
setting, may be drawn from some elements of a criminal appeal in which 
Masters collaborated with his father. This is how Jennie seemed to have 
encountered death: 

... on a sunny afternoon. 

By a country road. 

Where purple rag-weeds bloom along a straggling fence. 

And the field is gleaned, and the air is still. 

To see against the sun-light something black. 

Like a blot with an iris rim. . . . 

A somewhat similar episode has become famous in Fulton County folklore, 
though different in many details. On Christmas Day, 1899, the body of a 
24-year-old prostitute, Cora Peters, was found beneath a trestle of the 
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy tracks at the Spoon River crossing. 
Investigation revealed she left a Lewistown tavern the previous night with a 
60-year-old farmer, John Hellyer. Hellyer was arrested, and though he 
claimed Cora was struck by a train (her injuries were consistent with the 
story), he was tried for murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Hardin 
Masters won an Illinois Supreme Court appeal freeing Hellyer with a brief that 
Edgar Lee Masters helped prepare. Masters used the case in a more 
straightforward way m the ballad "Steam Shovel Cut" in another collection.'*' 
The failure of a bank is a central dramatic vehicle in Spoon River, with 
many epitaphs about the causes and consequences. Besides Masters' 
awareness that banks failed in both Petersburg and Lewistown with tragic 
aftermaths. ^^ he had his own direct experience in how a bank collapse could 
create fear and judicial chaos. Both he and Darrow lost heavily in their 
investment in the Bank of America, a system wherein drug stores functioned 
as branch banks, in 1905. Masters was counsel for an official of another bank in 
the Htigation that followed. The appellate and state supreme court opinions 


call attention to much evidence of sharp practice, mismanagement, and bad 
business judgment in operation of the Bank of America. Darrow's son told his 
father's biographer that the bank failed because its directors began "grafting 
and putting in bad loans. "^^ Thus Masters had some very personal reasons for 
the distaste several epitaphs expressed about bank manipulations, as seen 
most graphically perhaps in "Hildrup Tubbs": 

... I used my remnant of power 

To fasten myself like a saprophyte 

Upon the putrescent carcass 

Of Thomas Rhodes' bankrupt bank. 

As assignee of the fund. 

Everyone now turned from me. 

My hair grew white, 

My purple lusts grew gray. 

Tobacco and whisky lost their savor 

And for years Death ignored me 

As he does a hog. 

Many other examples could be cited to show that Masters' practice gave 
him not only material for the epitaphs but also an attitude about the law that 
pervaded them. It is not a kindly attitude. The scorn is most evident in the 
epitaph of Spoon River's liberal editor, "Carl Hamblin," with its direct 
reference to the era's major judicial controversy. The editor was tarred and 
feathered and his shop was wrecked because of this editorial he wrote 

... on the day the Anarchists were hanged in Chicago:^^ 

"I saw a beautiful woman with bandaged eyes 

Standing on the steps of a marble temple. 

Great multitudes passed in front of her, 

Lifting their faces to her imploringly. 

In her left hand she held a sword. 

She was brandishing the sword. 

Sometimes striking a child, again a laborer. 

Again a slinking woman, again a lunatic. 

In her right hand she held a scale; 

Into the scale pieces of gold were tossed 

By those who dodged the strokes of the sword. ..." 

The figure of Justice is unmasked by a radical "youth wearing a red cap," and 
her face is seen as covered with corruption and bearing "the madness of a 

dying soul." 

If Masters had little respect for the condition of the law and justice, as a 
number of the poems quoted above indicate, he did maintain that a return to 
the values of the pioneers who settled the state (his grandfather was one) could 
give America vitality and restore democratic ideals. The prophet in Spoon 
River who proposes this course, "English Thornton," does it with anarchistic 
rhetoric. The character may have been suggested by an anarchist orator, John 
Turner, an Englishman whose deportation Darrow and Masters fought 
unsuccessfully in a 1903 case before the United States Supreme Court. 
Although they lost, the matter received much press attention at the time and 
subsequent comment from legal scholars. ^^ "English Thornton" urges his 


Arise! and make the city yours, 

And the State yours — 

You who are sons of the hardy yeomanry of the forties! 

By God! If you do not destroy these vermin 

My avenging ghost will wipe out 

Your city and your state. 

Although many more examples could be cited, those I have used should 
sufficiently suggest the extent to which Masters' writings, particularly Spoon 
River, were permeated by matters of law. Legal questions are presented in 
settings ranging from "the dust of the justice court" ("Harmon Whitney") to 
constitutional arenas. The arguments are voiced by a varied array of lawyers 
and public officials, political philosophers and commentators, civic reformers 
and reactionaries, victims and perpetrators. The influence of law helped give 
Spoon River variety, realism, and a message— contributing to its lasting 
appeal. "Yes, having been pushed into the law by Fate I resolved to be a 
learned lawyer, and I became one," Masters commented.^ He also became, in 
large measure through the practice of law, an interpreter of human behavior 
who could portray a vast range of it with incisive universality. 


' Masters, Across Spoon River: An Autobiography (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 
1936), p. 286. General biographical information about Masters, unless otherwise indicated, 
is from this source. 

Across Spoon River, p. 340. 

^ Ibid., p. 3.39. 

^ Edgar Lee Masters was born August 23, 1868, in Garnett, Kansas, during a year when 
his father tried to establish a practice there. The family returned to Menard County, Illinois, 
home of Masters' grandparents, in 1869. Census information and family Biblical records 
show that Masters was bom in 1868, not 1869 as he stated in his autobiography. 

^ "Edgar Lee Masters' Impressive Tribute to Father Read Today at Funeral of Veteran 
Lawyer," Illinois State Register (Springfield), 16 Nov. 1925, p 1. 

Masters, "Days in the Lincoln Country ," /ourna/ of the Illinois State Historical Society, 
23 (1926), 782-86; Masters, The Sangamon (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1942), 
pp. 129-32. 


The Sangamon, pp. 26-28. 
^Across Spoon River, pp. 78, 127; see also Kimball Flaccus, "Edgar Lee Masters: A 
Biographical and Critical Study," Diss. New York University 1952, pp. 264-67. This is an 
appendix consisting of an October 21 , 1941 , letter to Flaccus from Masters, listing books he 
read from age 1 7 to 2 1 . 

The appellate courts served as examiners for candidates to the bar from 1888 to 1897, 
and results of the examination in which Masters participated have not been located: 
according to Justin Taft, clerk of the Illinois Supreme Court, in a letter of May 14, 1970, to 
Charles E. Burgess. A file at the Supreme Court building in Springfield contains cards 
showing bar admission dates for attorneys in the period. The entry for Masters is worded 
"Edgar Lee Masters, Fulton, June 9, 1891." 

The date is in Masters' "Introduction to Chicago," American Mercury, (Jan. 1934), p. 
49. William C. Goudy (1824-1893), a prosecuting attorney and state senator during his 
residence in Lewistown before the Civil War, was one of the attorneys, but Masters never met 


him. On Goudy. see Albert Scott. The Bench and Bar of Fulton County (Canton, 111.: The 
Canton Press-Ledger. 1970). p. 18. 

^' See Max Putzel. "Masters's 'Maltravers': Ernest McGaffey."/lwenca/i Literature. 21 
(1960). 491 -9.r 

Letter from Masters to Carter Harrison. January' 12, 1940. Newberr> Library. 
Chicago. The firm is listed as "Scanlan and Masters" in cases in Illinois Appellate Reports 
(hereafter Illinois App.) after the March, 1896, court term. The 1902 Illinois App. and 
Illinois Supreme Court Reports (hereafter Illinois) are the last to list the partnership name. 

^•^ Across Spoon River, pp. 270-75: Masters to Carter Harrison. March 21, 1938, 
Newberry Library. 

Across Spoon River, pp. 409-10. 

^^ Mirage (New York: Boni and Liveright. 1924). pp. 232-35. 261-62. 
Across Spoon River, p. 128. 

' A Book of Verses, p. 20"^. A Chicago firm. Way 6: Williams, printed but never 
published the book formally. In classical mythology. Themis was a wife and counselor to 
Jove, and mother of the fates, hours, and seasons and of Astraea, the blindfolded goddess of 

'"/4 Book of Verses, p. 164. In a causae description of the condition of the judiciary in 
Chicago in the 1890's. Masters maintained that "the couns of record, and the Appellate 
Court of the State, sitting in Chicago to correct the errors of the trial couns. were presided 
over by a preposterous group of fanatics and eccentrics, unfitted by temperament and 
education to be judges. . . . They roared at the litigants and the lawyers: they sneered at 
terrified novices in the law. they uttered obscenities under their breath to express contempt 
of points made in arguments. . . ." {The Tale of Chicago [New York: Putnam's, 1933). p. 
244. » 

Across Spoon River, pp. 404-05. 

Masters. "The Christian Statesman," American Mercury. Dec. 1924. p. 388. 

Across Spoon River, p. 272. 

^^ Lois Hartley. "Edgar Lee Masters. Political Essayist." Journal of the Illinois State 
Historical Society. 57 (1964), 249-61; Michael Yatron, /I wer/cai Literary^ Revolt (New York: 
Philosophical Library. 1959), pp. l-^O. 

-■^ The New Star Chamber and Other Essays (Chicago: Hammersmark Publishing Co.. 
1904). p. 208. 

-■* "Trial by Jury in Illinois," Illinois Law Review. 4 (1910), 408-16, and "Suspension of 
the Writ of Habeas Corpus," Illinois Law Review. 7 (1912), 15-29. 

"Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus," p. 28. 

~ Across Spoon River, p. 405. 

- Maximilian: A Play in Five Acts (Boston: R. G. Badger. 1902). 

Dexter Wallace (pseud, of Edgar Lee Masters). The Blood of the Prophets (Chicago: 
Rooks Press. 1905). p. 103. 

- Quotations from Spoon River Anthology in my text are from the standard trade 
edition (New York: Macmillan. 1922). still in print. Quotations from The New Snoon River 
are from the standard edition. (.New >ork: Bom and Livenghi. 1924j. Citation by page 
number is omitted since only a few poems in each book are longer than one page and the 
contents page in each book lists the poems alphabetically 

^^ The Blood of the Prophets, p. P. 

■^' "Oh. Giant Fate!" in Songs and Sonnets, by Webster Ford (pseud, of Edgar Lee 
Masters). (Chicago: Rooks Press. 1910), p. 63. Rooks Press also published Masters' Songs 
and Sonnets Second Series in 1912 and Masters' six early plays discussed in my text. 

Songs and Satires (New York: Macmillan, 1916). p. 98. 

^•^ Along the Illinois (Prairie City. 111.: The Press of James A. Decker. 1942). pp. 59-60. 
See The Sangamon, pp. 198-201. and William S. Jewell. Fifr\' Years lu Law and Politics 


(New York: Exposition Press, 1949), pp. 28-29, for information on the attorney, Cassius 

^ "Sickness and Health in Spoon River," Quarterly Bulletin of the Northwestern 
University Medical School, 23 (1949), 249. 

^ Across Spoon River, p. 286. 

^^ Ibid., p. 339. 

^"^Ibid., p. 399. 

^° "Notes for a Review of 'The Spoon River Anthology,' " The Little Review, 2 (May 
1915), 42. 

'' Citations from court reports will be given in short form. Opinions in the Kellogg case 
are in Jacob Christensen v. Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Co., 110 Illinois App. 61, and 
John O'Brien v. Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Co., 216 Illinois 354. Masters' role in the 
case is discussed by Ray Ginger, Altgeld's America: The Lincoln Ideal Versus Changing 
Realities (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1958), pp. 231-33. Masters' analysis of the Pullman 
strike is in The Tale of Chicago, pp. 264-69. 

George W. Wheeler v. The Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad Company, 267 
Illinois 306. 

Across Spoon River, p. 399. 

The destruction of the canning factory by fire happened a short time before the bank 
failed: John Depler, "Canning Factory Fire," in Favorite Columns From 'The Years That 
Were' (Lewistown, 111.: The Mid-County Press, 1969), unpaged. The Turner, Phelps & Co. 
Bank of Lewistown failed January 6, 1894: Jesse Heylin, ed.. History of Fulton County 
(Chicago: Munsell Publishing Co., 1908), p. 708. 

John Brandner v. Jacob Krebbs, 54 Illinois App. 652. Details in the opinion differ 
somewhat from Masters' recollection of the case in Across Spoon River, pp. 219-21. 

Eagle Brewing Company v. John J. Luckowitz, 138 Illinois App. 131; John J. 
Luckowitz V. Eagle Brewing Company, 235 Illinois 246. 

^^ Nellie Carlin, Admx., v. The Peerless Gas Light Company, 283 Illinois 142. 

^^ Across Spoon River, pp. 189-90; Clarence A. Moore v. Anton Recek, 163 Illinois 17. 

Across Spoon River, p. 334. Jacob Prassel was Masters' secretary. The case was 

Edward L. Kelian v. William Kellan, 258 Hlinois 256. 

° Across Spoon River, pp. 68-69; Heylin, p. 760. A fictionalized version of the case is in 

The Tide of Time (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1937), pp. 453-515. 

Flaccus. p. 238; the brief of the case is reproduced in Flaccus' dissertation, pp. 
268-83. The opinion is John C. Hellyer v The People of the State of Illinois, 186 Illinois 550. 
Edgar Lee Masters' assistance to his father also is indicated in the son's letter to Hardin 
Masters March 1, 1900. in the possession of Dr. Floyd Barringer of Springfield. The ballad is 
in the Great Valley (New York: Macmillan, 1916), pp. \li-ll . 

^^ See note 41; the Brahm & Greene Bank of Petersburg failed in 1883: R. D. Miller, 
Past and Present of Menard County, Illinois (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1905), p. 

Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow for the Defense (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City 

Publishing Co., 1943). pp. 179-80. And see ^cros5 Spoon River, pp. 290-91. The cases in 

which Masters participated as counsel were Kavanagh v. Bank of America, 239 Illinois 404 

and Pryor v. Bank of America — Kavanagh v. Bank of America, 240 Illinois 100. 


Four anarchists arrested in the Haymarket bombing investigation were hanged 

November 11. 1887. One other had committed suicide in his cell. 

John Turner v. Walter Williams, United States Commissioner of Immigration for the 
Port of New York. 194 United States Supreme Court Reports 279; Across Spoon River, pp. 
274-75; Outlook, 125 (1903), 473-74, and 869-70; Milton R. Konvitz, Civil Rights in 
Immigration (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press. 1953), pp. 39-44. 

Across Spoon River, p. 399. 

After Spoon Riven 
Masters' Poetic Development 1916-1919 


The years from 1916 to 1919 form an important and interesting segment of 
Edgar Lee Masters' career, but unfortunately too little is known about this 
period of his life, and the books published during these years have received 
almost no attention from scholars. The years that led up to Spoon River 
Anthology (1915) are well documented through Masters' autobiography. 
Across Spoon River (1936), but after he became famous not much is known 
about the man— except that his writing deteriorated. During this World War I 
period Masters produced four volumes of poetry. In the first of these. Songs 
and Satires (1916), he published poems which he characterized as "new," but 
since many of them were simply chosen from among the hundreds of poems he 
had written earlier, their real interest lies in why Masters printed the 
particular ones that he did.^ Three later volumes. The Great Valley (1916), 
Toward the Gulf (1918), and Starved Rock (1919), also contain poems which are 
not especially distinguished but which are well worth examining for at least 
three reasons. First, many of them reflect events which came after 1915, and 
thus they provide a perspective on Masters' attitudes and interests during the 
period just after Spoon River Anthology , which had made him the most talked- 
about poet in America. Second, they offer various special insights into 
Masters' esthetic problems, his struggles and failures as a poet. Third— and 
perhaps most important— these books, in conjunction with Songs and Satires, 
suggest a solution to the riddle of why Masters never wrote another book 
equal to Spoon River. 

The first book to follow Spoon River has often puzzled critics because 
Masters returned to some of the banal themes of an earlier time. Three of the 
lyrics in Songs and Satires had appeared in his first collection of poems, A 
Book of Verses (1898), and several others show (through form and style) 
evidence of having been composed much earlier— before the free verse 
movement had gained momentum. However, it is not the quality of the poems 
which I want to discuss, nor the dates of their composition, but rather the 
question of why Masters chose to publish these particular poems as the 
successors to Spoon River. 

Fourteen of the forty-five lyrics in Songs and Satires stress achievement or 
dedication to a goal, and concern romantic idealists— many of whom undergo 

- 74 


major tests on their long marches to success. Implicit in several poems is the 
suggestion that the individual owes it to himself to follow through with his 
early ideals. The quest for achievement is often linked to a religious concept 
and given the quaUty of a crusade, and a couple of the poems are even based on 
figures from the Bible: "Simon Surnamed Peter" and "All Life in a Life" (on 
Christ). The essentially religious nature of the idealist's quest is also reflected 
in the title of another poem, "Soul's Desire," and in "The Star," where 
fulfillment of the ideal leads to spiritual health and peace: 

"Give me to understand, O Star, 

Your inner self, your eternal spirit. 

That I may have you and not images of you. 

So that I may know what has driven me through the world, 

And may cure my soul. "2 

Masters also uses the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail— in "Ballad of 
Launcelot and Elaine" and "The Death of Sir Launcelot"— to show the kind of 
quest idealists might pursue. 

His secular romantics work with much the same zeal. Some look for the 
ideal in beauty (as in "Helen of Troy," excerpted from the 1898 volume), some 
in love (as in "A Study"), while others yearn for the visionary capacity itself, as 
in "The Vision." Even war, generally excoriated by Masters, is seen as a 
possible expression of human vision in "0 Glorious France," in which he says of 
the soldiers: "life to these/ Prophetic and enraptured souls is vision" (p. 71). 
He concludes the poem by describing how "the soul of man/ May to one 
greatest purpose make itself/ A lens of clearness" (p. 73). 

Of the remaining poems in Songs and Satires a few show signs of an 
irascible state of mind, such as "The Cocked Hat," a study of William Jennings 
Bryan, and "On a Bust," in which the speaker says to the bronze head of an 
unnamed leader: 

You cannot glorify 
Our dreams, or aspirations, or deep thirst. 
To you the world's a fig tree which is curst. 
You have preached every faith but to betray; 
The artist shows us you have had your day. (p. 99) 

But in most of the poems Masters is as congenial as he ever was to be in print. 
He is especiaUy cordial in "William Marion Reedy," praising the editor whose 
advice he so respected by comparing him to Buddha (for wisdom) and Rabelais 
(for humor). All in all, however, there are few satisfying poems in the volume. 
One other that is at least worth reading is "Silence," which was for many years 
his most frequently anthologized poem. A sharply realized example of one kind 
of silence suggests why it may have been popular: 

A curious boy asks an old soldier 

Sitting in front of the grocery store, 

"How did you lose your leg?" 

And the old soldier is struck with silence. 

Or his mind flies away. 

Because he cannot concentrate it on Gettysburg. 


It comes back jocosely 

And he says, **A bear bh it off." 

And the boy wonders, while the old soldier 

Dumbly, feebly li>-es o\-er 

The flashes of guns, the thunder of cannon. 

The shrieks of the slain, 

.And himself lying on the ground, 

.And the hospital surgeons, the knires. 

.And the long days in bed. (pp. 1-2) 

Later in the poem, the ever-present visionary motif is also mentioned: 

There is the silence of a spiritual crisis. 
Through which your soul, exquisitely tortured. 
Comes wtth visions. . . . (p. 2) 

Because so many of the poems in Songs and Satires repeat the same 
theme — a dogged devotion to idealistic achievement — the internal e\idence 
suggests that Masters was here giving expression to the personal philosophy 
which had worked so well for him. He had. after all. achieved his long- 
sought goal of literary eminence by never giving up and by dint of hard work. 
The question for the future was how would he react in print when the 
philosophy he seemed to tout did not result in a continuation of his success. 

After the success of Spoon River Anthology , and the publication of some 
earlier poems in Songs and Satires. Masters turned back to the Illinois 
countryside as subject matter for his next three volumes. For several reasons 
he also gravitated toward the iconoclasm which had worked so successfully in 
the epitaphs. Implicit in his choice of titles, however, is the ominous 
suggestion that he began this period of his career with hope and ended it with 
disgust. The Great Valley starts as a panoramic volume about the greatness of 
Illinois and the Midwest; it concludes with angry enumeration of the country's 
decline. Toward the GW/ continues the anger, but the emphasis is on Masters' 
personal losses, especially the end of his romantic idealism. Starved Rock 
reveals Masters as an introspective and bitter poet making irate attacks on 
those whom he blames for his. and the country's, woes. 

In the first of these. The Great Valley, we see a brief continuation of the 
romantic side of Masters. The title poem, which opens the volume, has eight 
sections. In the first, "Fort Dearborn," Masters presents an idealized portrait 
of the pioneer history of Chicago: 

In the loneliness of the log-cabin. 

Across the river. 

The fur-trader played his fiddle 

When the snow lay 

About the camp of the Pottawatomies. . .^ 

Section two, "'Captain John Whistler," deals with the man who built Fort 
Dearborn in 1803. an idealist who felt moved 

to strive 
For men to be. for cities, nobler states 
.Moving foreshadowed in your dreams at night. 
And realized some hundred years to come. (p. 11) 


Much later, in section eight ("Grant and Logan and Our Tejirs"), Masters 
contrasts this early culture with a more recent society which has grown up 
indifferent to the pioneer past: 

Before you were grown rich. 

And populous 

You brightened histon". 

Great men came from you. 

But now that you have cities and great treasure 

Where are your great ones? (p. 44) 

Throughout the long opening poem. Masters stresses that the present is at 
variance with what once existed, and he speaks of a degeneracy, especially in 
politics and rehgion. 

The chief political losses are associated with events which came during and 
after the Civil War, a war Masters blamed on Lincoln: 

he became a man who broke all law 
To have his law. He killed a million men 
For what he called the Union. ... (p. 56) 

Instead of a stable, rural, and essentially simple culture. Masters saw a new, 
urban society growing up indifferent to the old values. Instead of strong local 
governments— extolled by "The Little Giant" in "The Lincoln and Douglas 
Debates" section — there now seemed to be a loosely federated system of 
corruption, which the poet describes in "Hanging the Picture" (section five). 

Elsewhere in The Great Valley Masters asserted that the venality of the 
modern city had passed to the country. This is especially evident in a trio of 
poems set in a rural village: "Cato Braden," "Winston Prairie," and "Will 
Boyden Lectures." In the second of these, the poet attacked those who were 
responsible for this corruption, the "court-house rings and judges in the rings" 
(p. 123). 

This rural-urban duality characterizes much of The Great Valley. Often a 
character reflects favorably on his cwn agrarian past or on that of the pioneers 
in the Midwest, as in "Past and Present." "Memorabilia." and "Worlds Back of 
Worlds." In the last of these, t e speaker meditates on the past: "The 
windmills, barns and houses swin In a sphered ether, wheeling, dim" (p. 
162). On the other hand, some of the more lengthy poems are about urban 
dwellers or urban values, and here ve detect Masters' hostility. The subject of 
"The Typical American?" is descri )ed as "a cog-wheel in the filthy trade Of 
justice courts, police, and graft in \/ine" (p. 70). Other lyrics in the same vein 
are "Having His Way" and "The Asp." 

We see a similar hostility and sense of loss when Masters turns to the 
subject of religion. Christianity had a good beginning in its attempt to achieve 
spiritual fulfillment, but as time went on, Christians took what they wished 
from pagan learning and then attempted to stifle or change the remaining 
elements of paganism— as he points out in "The Apology of Demetrius." Thus, 
in Masters' mind repression and Christianity were always joined. In "Malachy 
Deagan" he speaks of the innocent diversions of a small town "before the 
Puritan rake/ Combed through the city" (p. 143). He elsewhere examines ways 
in which churches try to force people to act contrary to their own inclinations 


("The Mourner's Bench" and "The Church and the Hotel"). He even shows how 
a man might lose his life for a minor breach of the moral code (in "Steam Shovel 
Cut"): "They hung him up for a little beer/ With a woman on his knees" (p. 
176). Masters chose as his champion in this fight against religion "the great 
agnostic," Robert Ingersoll, one of the most noted — and denounced — residents 
of turn-of-the-century lUinois. In "Robert G. Ingersoll" he labelled him "a 
general in the war of ideas for freedom" (p. 77). 

Why Masters felt free to use his verse in such a vituperative way is 
partially explained in three other groups of poems from The Great Valley. 
They are important because they foreshadow the direction his later verse 
would take. These are the poems about the failure of idealists, the success of 
cynics, and the necessity of national reform. In "The Search," the last poem in 
the volume, he tells of three romantics (Don Quixote, Hamlet, and Faust) 
whose idealism has led them to nothing, and all of Masters' other idealists, 
artists, and aspirant souls in the volume also fail. At one extreme we find a 
person unjustly punished— in "The Furies"— who speaks of "ambitioh that 
eludes, love never found" and "the memory of the dream" (p. 167). Likewise, a 
more modern romantic, in "Elizabeth to Monsieur D— ," spends her life looking 
in vain for 

An altar for my genius, something true 
And near in tlesh to triumpli for, or brave 
The world of evil for. (p. 247) 

Contrasted with these lyrics about fictive idealists who fail are two much 
more interesting poems about real men — successes, whom Masters saw as 
cynics: "Theodore Dreiser" and "John Cowper Powys." Both figures are 
characterized as shrewd men unafraid to speak openly about society's ills. 
Their success comes in great part from their pessimism. Powys is an "observer 
of men's involuted shells": "Scoffer with reverence, visioned, quick 
to damn,/ Yet laugh at, looking keenly through the sham" (p. 232). Dreiser is, 
in like fashion, 

Contemptuous, ironical, remote, 

Cloudy, irreverent, ferocious, 

Fearless, grim, compassionate, yet hateful. ... (p. 228) 

Given Masters' admiration for these two men, here characterized as scoffers 
and cynics, one wonders how much Masters' verse was influenced by his 

That he was open to outside literary influences may be seen by his 
comments on the third area here under scrutiny, national reform. In "Come 
Republic," one of the better poems in the volume, he sounds like the mature 
Whitman in his attacks on the depravity of politics, religion, and society: 

Come! United States of America, 
And you one hundred million souls, O Republic, 
Throw out your chests, lift up your heads, 
And walk with a soldier's stride, (p. 72) 


Masters seems, however, to have been convinced that the "greater republic" 
(p. 100) for which he was looking was not coming very fast. He could hardly 
hope for the nation's betterment when it was obvious that the integrity of his 
own "great valley" was declining. What he could not know was that he himself 
was shortly to experience a decline. 

His next book. Toward the Gulf, was written in 1917 in Michigan, and 
certain events there had a negative effect on his poetry. Just when it seemed 
he had established his reputation and could devote his time to writing, his 
dreams were suddenly dashed. He had hoped for years to retire to a rural place 
and to write in what he called a writer's "haven." He thought he had found 
such a place in Spring Lake, Michigan. However, after moving to that tiny 
community, he feuded with local residents, was plagued with the presence of 
an old g^rl-friend, and, as we also learn from the autobiography, was even 
considered a suspicious person after the war-hysteria hit.'* Masters 
complicated everything in September of 1917 by walking out of what he had 
long considered an impossible marriage. 

His troubles may have been his own fault, but in his mind he was certain he 
had been driven out by religious fundamentalists and political conservatives. 
He says exactly this in his poem "Spring Lake" (in Starved Rock) where the 
artist-hero, "the God Apollo," is driven out of town by a posse of preachers, 
teachers, and dullards. Masters suggested that such philistines cost him his 
farm; there is little doubt that they also helped cost him his art, for he used his 
poetry (and much of his fiction) to punish them, to expose them, and at times 
simply to call them names. Put together during these trying circumstances. 
Toward the Gulf is a record of losses. No fewer than fifteen of the forty-six 
poems discuss a romantic ideal which has in some way failed, and, 
significantly, the poems are more visibly subjective than in the previous 

All the idealistic people in these poems suffer a loss of hope. The lovers are 
deceived by the women they love in "St. Deseret," "Victor Rafolski on Art," 
and "Delilah." Good politicians are oppressed by the bad in "Sir Galahad," 
"The World-Saver," and "Bertrand and Gourgaud Talk Over Old Times." And 
the truly religious are gulled by the apparently religious in "Friar Yves," "The 
Eighth Crusade," and "The Bishop's Dream of the Holy Sepulchre." Among 
those who lose the ideal vision, two are left baffled (in "Mirage of the Desert" 
and "The Room of Mirrors"), one grows bitter (in "Black Eagle Returns to St. 
Joe"), and one (in "Heaven is But the Hour") mourns its loss: "The tragedy is 
when Life has made you over/ And denied you, and dulled your dreams."^ 
Another (in "The Landscape") must rely on memory to return him to the days 
of his youth, when romance was a possibility: "In the room where the dormer 
windows look—/ There were your knight and the tattered book" (p. 91). It is 
significant too that the penultimate poem in the volume is "The End of the 
Search," in which the same three figures found in "The Search" in the previous 
book are frustrated in their quest. One finally "sings a song of Euphorion/ To 
hide his heart's despair" (p. 283). The very title of the poem serves notice that 
Masters himself is no longer a philosophical traveler with idealists. 

His next book, Starved Rock, simply became a vehicle for the poet to 
revenge himself on his enemies. The title poem is an apologia, of sorts, for 


what follows. In it Masters writes from the vantage point of the Ulini Indians 
who perished on Starved Rock. Like the poet, they perished in what they had 
thought would be a haven: "And this starved scarp of stone/ Is now the 
emblem of our tribulation."" 

Unlike the Illini, however, Masters is able to counter-attack. In "Oh You 
Sabbatarians!" he denounces the villagers of Spring Lake and ridicules what 
the town holds sacred. His vituperation is so intense that his lines barely pass 
for verse: 

Oh you Sabbatarians, methodists and puritans: 

You bigots, devotees and ranters; 
You formalists, pietists and fanatics. 
Teetotalers and hydropots. ... (p. 88) 

Elsewhere he attacks simplistic views of God and Christ (in "Mournin' for 
Religion"), refers to divinity students as "crook-nosed psychopaths" and 
"thick-lipped onanists" (in "They'd Never Know Me Now," p. 148), shows how 
politicians dupe the faithful (in "The Christian Statesman"), and even invokes 
the aid of a pagan goddess (in "Pallas Athene") to rid the world of certain strict 
Protestant sects: "Dethrone our bastard Demos, partisans/ Of Moody, 
Campbell, all the Wesleyans" (p. 90). In general. Masters tries to make himself 
as unpleasant as possible where middle-class America's spiritual values are 

While many of the poems in Starved Rock are personal invectives too nasty 
to pass for verse and are deservedly forgotten, the events which led up to the 
poems should be remembered: by 1919 the poet was at odds with his wife, was 
without a real home, and in certain respects, was without a country— for the 
"old America"^ he claimed to love was assuredly gone with the war. He was 
suspicious of the traditional institutions: marital, ecclesiastical, and political. 
His personal idealism had suffered severe blows, and he had fallen short in his 
own quest to be an increasingly admired writer and Uve on a fine estate. In 
fact, his estate would soon be entirely gone (with his divorce), and his 
reputation as a writer was in decline. 

Thus, while Masters began the period after Spoon River at the height of his 
fame and with a desire "to memorialize Illinois and the country which had 
given so many distinguished men to America,"" he soon descended to rancor 
and disgust. He began this period by publishing early poems of idealism and by 
praising lUinois: he ended it by speaking of himself and his enemies. The 
hatred generated during these years manifested itself so frequently in his 
writings that it soon came to dominate, and neither the art nor the artist ever 
recovered. When Masters wrote his autobiography two decades later, he 
ended it with the year 1917. 


Across Spoon River An Autobiography (New York: Farrar. 1936). p. 373. 

Songs and Satires (New York: Macmillan. 1916). p. l^l. All subsequent page 
references to this volume will be included in the text. 


^ The Great Valley (New York: Macmillan, 1916), p. 1. All subsequent page references 
to this volume will be included in the text. 

Across Spoon River, pp. 386-94. 

^ Toward the Gulf(Nev,' York: Macmillan. 1918), p. 4. All subsequent page references to 
this volume will be included in the text. 

^ Starved Rock (New York: Macmillan. 1919), p. 4. All subsequent page references to 
this volume will be included in the text. 

Across Spoon River, p. 338. 

8 Ibid., p. 375. 

The People^ Yes: 
Sandburg's Dreambook for Today 


There were two poets in Carl Sandburg. One was the advocate of 
democracy, committed to the lusty, often brutalized life of the people; using 
the common idiom to celebrate the wonder and the worth of life, and himself at 
times nearly "daffy with life's razzle dazzle."^ The other was the poet of flux 
and drift, dominated by thoughts of loss and death, uncertain of life's purpose, 
and yearning for some release from the lonely prison of the senses. Forty years 
ago a discerning Newton Arvin was perhaps the first to define this second 
tendency: "A troubled skepticism, an enervating indecisiveness, overlie much 
of what he has written: whenever the raw fact or the strong primitive 
sentiment is left behind, we are likely to find ourselves in a chartless prairie of 
bewilderment and doubt. . . ."2 A lyrical pessimism is expressed in all of 
Sandburg's works, beginning with Chicago Poems; its presence in the epical 
climax of his career. The People, Yes, creates a formal tension between 
affirmation and denial, life and death, growth and decay, dreams and the 
reality of broken dreams. It challenges the yea-saying principle in the later 
poem and causes emphasis to fall less on an optimistic social philosophy than on 
a religious faith in "a moving monolith" (p. 616) the poet calls the people. 

Sandburg did not write poetry of tragic personal emotions. His lyric voice 
is usually sad, nostalgic, almost detached, counting the loss of all lovely things, 
including love itself. Memories of dead dreams, love that can't last or won't be 
found, beautiful things caught in the act of their passing— these are subjects 
that recur. A note was struck in "Gone," from Chicago Poems, which tells of 
the strange disappearance of a wild, passionate girl and plays wistfully on key 
words brought together in the end: "Everybody loved Chick Lorimer./ 
Nobody knows where she's gone" (p. 64). Many others are gone: M'Liss, who 
went away from the old home and left Louie with the yellow roses and 
moonlight, praying to "Let her be M'Liss always" (p. 389); Mamie, who 
dreamed of romance and went off to Chicago looking, and now works for six 
dollars a day in the basement of a department store, wondering about a bigger 
place "and real dreams/ that never go smash" (p. 17); boys in the yellow and 
gold of autumn who cried when the nuts were ripe: "And some are in machine 
shops; some are in the navy;/ And some are not on payrolls anywhere./ Their 
mothers are through waiting for them to come home" (p. 93). 

In "Bilbea," a loneliness out of the past speaks to us in tablet writing from 
excavations of ancient Babylonia. The persona writes to his friend, evidently a 

- 82 - 

SANDBURG'S 7'//£'PjE:0/'L£'. yE^ 83 

prostitute, to tell her he was in town Saturday night, went to the old place, 
saw the other girls, but found no Bilbea: "Have you gone to another house? or 
city?/ Why don't you write?/ I was sorry. I walked home half-sick" (p. 105). 
Modern loneliness is man searching in the encyclopedia for "Old-Fashioned 
Requited Love" and thinking, wrily, that the iceman "gripping a clear cube in 
summer sunlight" might know (p. 180). Love in these poems goes fast, and so 
does youth, beauty, and laughter, making the poet observe the green river of 
working girls flow past and wonder about "where it is all going" (p. 16). The 
lyric voice typically evokes a mood of passive meditative regret for all things 
that cannot be saved or grasped. 

In his nature poems Sandburg is often like the Imagists of his day and their 
Japanese masters, attempting to catch a moment, a mood, in a single vivid 
descriptive picture. But he is also related to the Impressionist painters, 
conscious as they were of changing lights, shifting weather, the different looks 
of a beU-tower at morning and at night. In the celebrated "Nocturne in a 
Deserted Brickyard," motions of the moon, sand, shadows, willows, and waves 
come to rest momentarily in "a wide dreaming pansy of an old pond in the 
night" (p. 56). The same tension between motion and rest may be seen in 
"Flux," where the sea runs red as the sunset "reaches and quivers," and then 
yellow when the moon "slants and wavers" (p. 34). Such mood poems 
anticipate the fully expressed statement of "Hungry and Laughing Men," in 
which all things are running— water, horses, weather, days; what lasts is only 
the memory of things, often not of the thing itself but of "a pony heel mark" on 
the grass. Provoked by old notebooks of the Japanese painters, the poet writes 
his code: 

Love to keep? There is no love to keep. 

There is memory of runners, foot-glad flingers. 

heel marks in the blue grass, running 

threats of interchangeable sun and rain-cloud, (p. 386) 

If there is transience and death in nature, however, ultimately there is also 
regeneration. In "Autumn Movement" the poet cries over "beautiful things 
knowing no beautiful thing lasts"; yet as he tells how the cornflower yellow is 
torn full of holes, "new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow" (pp. 
87-88). Or when "acres of birds" are spotting the air going south in "Falltime," 
something is finished, but he knows that some new beginning is on the way (p. 
88). Or when watching a sunset from an Omaha hotel window — conscious that 
"Today is a goner" and "Another yellow plunger shoots the dark" — he knows 
that constellations are wheeling over the land and "all the talk is stars" (pp. 
89-90). Stars, birds, the seasons, and those two great reservoirs of life, the sea 
and land, are for Sandburg great fixities in a world of constant flux, 
movement, and disappearance. 

Nature gives him little assurance of a happy end for man. Human life goes 
down everywhere to darkness and long sleep. Departing, with arriving and 
living, is one of the unalterable facts of existence (p. 334), but it is a mysterious 
fact. "Now you see 'em, now you don't," we are told in "Death Snips Proud 
Men" (p. 177). Sandburg was haunted, even fascinated, by the strangeness of 
leave-taking, shown in "To Certain Journeymen" when he commends 
undertakers, hearse drivers, and gravediggers for knowing the secret behind 


their job and laughing as they "earn a living by those who say good-by today in 
thin whispers" (p. 19). Sometimes he was stirred by nightmare thoughts of 
death, as in "Under a Hat Rim" (p. 25), but more often sensed the quiet 
inevitable letting go of loved things cited so beautifully in "Stars, Songs, 
Faces" (p. 207). All life must go, he says again in "Losses," and we hold at last 
only the shadows (p. 35). 

When men go they go alone, and deep to the salty wet floor of the sea 
where green-eyed scavengers pick their eyes, or back to the sod, to silence and 
dust (pp. 58, 134). When men come they rise from the cool moist loam "To 
shape of rose leaf,/ Of face and shoulder," and only for a day (p. 98). Almost 
invariably the consolation for extinction in such poems is the breakup of 
individual identity, its submergence in nature, and a mingling of the flesh with 
the elements. Although in "Have Me" the poet could speak of his return to the 
root grass of the sea floor and of a present need, thus, for physical love— "Have 
me in the blue and the sun," he pleads (p. 130)— he often, nevertheless, feels 
oblivion to be a powerful attraction, an escape from the fever and fret of 
sensuous life. "Cool Tombs," from Comhuskers, is the most famous expression 
of this theme. Light is thrown on that poem by another from the same volume, 
"Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn," in which the poet sinks mto quiet 
harmony with nature but is disturbed, parenthetically, by letters received 
from the realms of war, art, and labor. His conclusion: 

Better the blue silence and the gray west, 

The autumn mist on the river, 

And not any hate and not any love. 

And not anything at all of the keen and the deep. ... (p. 91) 

Love as well as hate stop in the cool tombs. All the hot passions are 
burned out together. At the end of Chicago Poems the poet makes death a junk 
man who comes around to pick up all the clocks that will not work right and are 
tired of ticking. How glad the clock is when the junk man carries it away (p. 

One poem from Smoke and Steel, "Broken-Face Gargoyles" (p. 175), is 
perhaps the most imaginative expression of Sandburg's longing to be free of 
the imperfections and limitations of the physical state. Consistent with other 
poems, death is figured here as a gentle undertaker who comes doing a swift 
and mystic buck and wing: "now you see it and now you don't." The magic of 
this anticipated event opens up a world of sensuous beauty— flashing fish and 
tangy apples— and "little fool homes" slammed together for birds, with open 
doors for all. Such beauty and freedom are not promised, however, until six 
o'clock in the evening a thousand years from now because the poet is not yet 
"footloose." All he can give us now is broken-face gargoyles: 

a double gorilla head with two fish mouths and four eagle eyes hcx)ked on a street 
wall, spouting water and looking two ways to the ends of the street for the new 
people, the young strangers, coming, coming, always coming. 

Providing the title for Alvmys the Young Strangers, the poet's own account 
of his early years, this passage promises a continuing surge of vitality in the 


form of new life despite the imprisonment of the senses in an animal state. In 
"Gargoyle," a powerful and enigmatic early poem, a jeering mouth is pounded 
repeatedly by a fist driven by an electric wrist and shoulder. The mouth bleeds 
melted iron and its laugh is full of nails rattling (p. 137). In still an earlier 
poem, "Momus," the poet envies a gargoyle face in bronze that has evaded "all 
the iron things of life" and become a "Careless eye-witness of the spawning 
tides of men and women" suffering in the world (p. 45). "Gargoyle" produces a 
brutalized image of earthly horror and destruction: in "Momus" the gargoyle 
tace has escapea to a high and detached mockery of the human condition. In 
"Broken-Face Gargoyles" something of both ideas may be present simul- 
taneously. Here the twin heads have escaped the generational trap but are 
neither careless nor mocking as they look with eagle eyes, hopefully, for the 
young strangers, the new life that never fails to come. Yet in another sense 
these grotesque hooked heads suggest the animal passions that sometimes 
reduce life to "the iron things" — to a state of hot metal and mechanical cruelty. 
The power of the central symbol of the poem depends on tension between the 
twin suggestions of hope and present reality. 

If Sandburg could see only occasional glimpses of light for the 
individual— both before and after death— he saw even fewer for tribes, 
nations, whole civilizations. One thing he was sure of as early as Chicago 
Poems is that all worlds made by men, both great and small, go down to dust. 
In "A Coin," for example, he examines buffalo and Indian-head pennies— 
"Partners in the mist"— and pays them a poignant farewell (p. 20). In "The 
Has-Been" a thoughtless boy chips and splatters the face of an ancient stone 
figure and laughs; but the face is silent, "seeming to clutch a secret" (p. 20). 3 
These and other early poems, such as "In a Back Alley," "Limited," "Bronzes," 
and "Under"— the last depicting the undertow as "a sleepless/ Slowfaring 
eater/ Maker of rust and rot" (p. 47)— are succeeded by the slangy treatment 
in "The Sins of Kalamazoo," from Smoke and Steel, in which the lover of the 
city just as it is speaks to the loved one: 

Kalamazoo, both of us will do a fadeaway. 
I will be carried out feet first 
And time and the rain will chew you to dust 
And the winds blow you away. (p. 174) 

At the end he is prompted to wish that Kalamazoo had hounds with bronze 
paws on its public square (p. 175), a fanciful coda to the theme of change and 
death. "Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind" is a more formal treatment 
of the death of worlds; and in a poem from Slabs of the Sunburnt West, "At the 
Gates of Tombs," Sandburg suggests why the death of civilizations is the law 
of life. Anyone who calls for a world in which sacred and beautiful things shall 
last— any "noisy gazook"— shall die first: "gag 'em, lock 'em up, get 'em 
bumped off (pp. 293-94). The law derives from man himself, but the poet 
implies that it is a law nonetheless. 

The meaning of all this death in the world is usually lost on Sandburg. He 
finds the dead to be both voiceless and deaf. They hold under their tongues "A 
locked-up story" (pp. 46, 59). His obsession with loss springs, in part at least. 


from his bewilderment in the face of the mystery. One need go no further than 
Chicago Poems to see how unable he is to find answers and how equally unable 
he is to stop asking the questions. A poem entitled "The Answer" gives the 
typical response: Silence (p. 45). In others all the last answers "Go running 
back to dust and mist" (p. 57), or mist becomes the cause of the "voiceless, 
baffled, patient Sphinx" (p. 75). 4 Richard Crowder has found Sandburg's 
persistent repetition of the unanswerable questions, without coming near a 
conclusion, to be tiresome and irritating to himself and many other readers.^ 

In his preface to Complete Poems, the poet characterizes life as 
inexplicable, incomprehensible, imponderable, and unfathomed (p. xxi). He 
seems to feel, in a typically romantic way, that poetry is chiefly a matter of 
expressing these things. A review in Poetry written by William Carlos 
Williams in 1951 helped to seal Sandburg's fate for two decades b^ blaming his 
formlessness on a lack of a motivating spirit or theory of poetry;" but it seems 
reasonably clear that behind his poetic theory, or its absence, is his bafflement 
in the presence of life's formlessness, that his weaknesses of structure reflect 
the dominant uncertainty and indecisiveness of his philosophic mind. "What 
can be explained is not poetry" (p. xxii), Yeats's father is quoted as saying, a 
maxim that appealed to our poet because he found so little himself that could 
be explained. 

Sandburg's uneasiness in the physical world was not allayed by any 
conventional religious faith. One critic's examination of his Christian 
references finds a strong religious feeling and expression running through his 
poetry, ' but no one has argued convincingly that his work evinces an explicit 
acceptance of the Word. Dan Hoffman's view that he cut himself off from his 
own "deepest resources" by abandoning the individual consciousness for the 
field of collective emotions" is essentially correct, but it overlooks the 
possibility that these resources were neither deep nor extensive. Someone 
passionately devoted to a humanistic ethic but obsessed by the purpose- 
lessness and pain of human existence might find the drama of intense personal 
passions unbearable and possibly irrelevant. Walt Whitman fashioned a poetic 
whole from the triad of principles enunciated in his Dem.ocratic Vistas: 
democratic en-masse, spirituality, and, in the center, "personalism," the 
"centripetal isolation of the human being in himself."^ In Sandburg the "Me" 
gives way and with it goes the possibility of either traditional Christian or 
Transcendental responses, both of which depend on a belief in the significance 
of the individual spirit. He is left with the principle of democracy. Whitman's 
"unyielding principle of the average,"^" and with the need to find in it a 
bulwark against the troubling facts of being and experience. In The People, 
Yes, Sandburg arrives at a theme in which his skepticism is played off by, even 
made to confirm, a religious faith that makes personal questions unimportant. 
He arrives at the divinity of the people. 

The People, Yes is a bleak picture of democracy in 1936. Everywhere we 
find liars, cheats, fixers, panderers, thieves — opportunists and exploiters all. 
Politics is crooked, industry ruthless and unfeeling, labor bosses self-serving, 
journalists cynical and without ideals, judges and lawyers on the take. Money 
is god. Through it all run the twin specters of hunger and heartbreak. 
Unemployment lines, broken promises, and exploded dreams are the heritage 


of a nation. Against this tale of injustice and deprivation the poet asserts his 
faith in the resilient life of the common people, although his conclusion that 
"Man will yet win" (p. 617) is less than convincing. The ways and means for 
making a better world are lacking, and triumph over evil is as far off as ever at 
the end. The poem could offer little hope to reformers with their eye on the 
realities of experience. What is more convincing, however, is an imaginative 
theory of the people that has informed his poetry from the beginning and is 
given full expression in The People, Yes. 

Sandburg's primary motive is to provide answers to two questions posed 
early in the poem: What is the people and where is it going? To the first 
question he replies. 

Is this tar oft from asking what is grass? 

what is salt? what is the sea? what is loam? (p. 45b) 

A basic identification with nature is thus established. Man comes out of the sea 
and is a mixture of earth and air, a walking drug store, in fact, proven by the 
poet in a pharmaceutical tour de force on the human body (pp. 539-40). The sea 
is not only man's origin but a fitting symbol of the people (p. 443). Throughout 
the poem sea and grass are important symbols of the mass because, for 
Sandburg, these are collective words in an absolute sense. He refuses to 
assert, with Whitman, that a single blade of grass has equal validity apart 
from and as part of the whole. He seems to find comfort and strength in the 
belief that the people, like nature, constitutes a massed whole without 
individuating tendencies that would expose it to death in the world. 

The poet believes that the instincts of the people are one with the world of 
natural phenomena. At the beginning he says that the people know what the 
land knows (p. 442), a truth clarified when we see that homing instincts of the 
purple martins — their sense of where to go and how — are like those of the 
people (pp. 452-53). Later the people seems like a monster turtle in its slow 
obedience to necessity and even seems to develop, like the birds and moths, 
"protective coloration" in its Darwinian adaptation to a cruel environment (p. 
518). As the theme of festering discontent and incipient revolt emerges, 
analogies are made to the deep-sea squid and the machine world of the insects 
which do what they must, instinctively (pp. 591, 562). The fear that prompted 
Hamilton to call the people "a great beast" is justified (p. 469) because the 
people, it is implied, is a force of nature that will not be denied its right to live. 

The energy of life itself is the key point in Sandburg's definition of the 
people. The point was first made in "I Am the People, the Mob," from Chicago 
Poems: "Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up 
what I have" (p. 71). Now the point is made chiefly through a stupendous 
transcription of the language of the people. The g^ass, like the people, goes to 
sleep, lives again, but has no name for it (p. 528). But people, Sandburg 
suggests, do name it: in their anecdotes they express their immortal life. "The 
rootholds of the earth nourish the majestic people," and from the people come 
a deluge of sayings, anecdotes, proverbs, and yarns (p. 471). The poem is a 
veritable archive of quotations from the common idiom expressing the 
optimism and pessimism of the people, its wisdom and folly, common sense, 
courage, fears, and superstitions. The effect of the whole is to prove the 


historical fact of the vitality, the staying power of the people in a world of 
suffering, monotony, and death. Wolfgang Mieder has recently counted 322 
different proverbs in the poem,^^ a staggering figure attesting to the people's 
wisdom for survival and contrasting to the first section of the poem that 
describes the terrible chaos of tongues in the fatal "Tower of Babel job" (p. 
440). This surging irrepressible chorus of quotations, which is similar in many 
ways to the epic catalog and places the poem, incidentally, among the longest 
in the language, has the single function of echoing or punctuating the concept 
of a perpetual life of the people in the midst of endless trouble and meaningless 

While celebrating the great instinctive principle of life animating the 
people, Sandburg is aware of another element; for the birds leave off where 
man begins (p. 463). The people is "Mixed from a bowl of sky blue dreams and 
sea slime facts," or as one Chicago poet confessed, he was both an earthworm 
and a rider to the moon (pp. 470, 465). The motif of the people as dreamer is 
introduced in the story of Mildred Klinghofer (a name from the people) who 
lost two babies in infancy and had a "child-hunger" deep within her until her 
last hours when, her mind wandering, she cried out for her baby and was 
solaced by a rag doll: "There are dreams stronger than death" (p. 447), the 
poet concludes, suggesting that these too are part of the immortal life of the 
people. The keystone to the arch of life is hope, and the arch is alive and 
singing, restlessly, as alive as the rivers that run into the sea and return in fog 
and rain (pp. 451-52). Mist, fog, and smoke in this poem stand for the thin but 
alive air of dreams as well as the mystery that Hes beyond. 

Sandburg's second primary question involves the destination of these 
"moon shooters" (p. 608). "Where to? What next?" is a refrain heard in 
rhythmic succession from first to last, and a sobering answer is given when the 
Sphinx breaks its long silence to say, " 'Don't expect too much' " (p. 450). The 
moving sea and wind sing the song of the people: "Man will never arrive, man 
will be always on the way" (p. 479). " 'Where you going?' " the people ask one 
another (p. 530). Even Lincoln, a dreamer, wishes he knew " 'whither we are 
tending' " (p. 525). History is simply " 'Born, troubled, died' " and the future is 
" 'Maybe' " (p. 502). Yet the poet rejoices in the illusions and great unfulfilled 
expectations of the people (pp. 464-65). Because hope drives the life-giving, 
life-saving energy, he seems to say, the rag dolls with which aspirations are 
usually rewarded are useful things. Dreaming in the dark the people is heroic. 
Uncertainty which ends in loneliness and heart-sickness in the personal lyrics 
is thus converted into a positive force for continuing vitality. 

In one of the most remarkable passages in a remarkable poem, a 
"dreambook seller" operating in the streets of Chicago gives the people he 
accosts what they need, although privately harboring terrifying thoughts of 
extinction. This little "humpty-dumpty runt of a man," overcoming his initial 
impulse to preach a nada world, finally sells the people rainbows and crimson 
dawns and the assurance that they shall never be tired until the sea is tired, 
that they will be hard as nails and soft as blue fog (pp. 567-68). Turning the 
corner afterward, this scholar-clown talks to himself 

about the dust ot the knuckles of his great-grandfathers, how they once were hard 
as nails and could pick a vest-button with a bullet, and how his own little knuckles 


sometime would shiver into fine dust and how he wanted snowdrifts piled over him 
and the inscription: HERE NO ONE LIES BURIED, (pp. 568-69) 

The People, Yes is revealed as Sandburg's dreambook of and for the 
people. The opposing principles— misery, loss, transience, the death of 
individuals— are negated by the glorious fact of the people's coming and 
becoming. The dreambook seller touched a sensitive nerve. Individual death is 
all around us: "Men live like birds together in a wood; when the time comes 
each takes his flight." Then new men take the places of the old (p. 509). Tribes, 
nations, clans have their hour: "Breeds run out/ and shining names/ no longer 
shine." Yet one might chisel a headstone of John Doe or Richard Roe, step 
back, and ask oneself, " 'Can this be so when I myself am John Doe,/ when I 
myself am Richard Roe?' " (p. 575). In mystic lines the poet affirms the sacred 
Whitman principle of unity between past and present life and sings the 
permanent life of the people that, like the animals, disregards the extinction of 
the individual. The dreambook seller longed for the snowdrifts of oblivion 
when he could have rejoiced in his mortal condition. No one, indeed, lies buried 
in his grave, for he and everyone live on in the species. John Doe is, yet is not, 
the name of an individual. Richard Roe dies, but there are Richard Roes 
everywhere among the people. The ancient myth of rebirth and eternal life is 
shaped by the poet into a dreambook for today. 

In the early poem, "I Am the People, the Mob," the mass is the seed ground 
for leaders, both the Napoleons and the Lincolns (p. 71). Although Sandburg 
seems reluctant to acknowledge it in his epic, the implication throughout is 
that all those despicable individuals who rise above other men to deny and 
exploit them come out of that seed ground — so many that one asks at times 
who is left to represent the people. He is not reluctant, however, to say that aU 
of them return to it eventually. Well-known earlier poems, such as "Southern 
Pacific" and "A Fence," show that death as the great leveler was not a new 
thing in Sandburg's poetry. The earth is full of "the burst bladders of the 
puffed-up," he says now, and "the big shots" fade through the glass of death 
"For discussion in an autocracy of worms" (pp. 511, 471). Through the death of 
individuals the people becomes not only a seedbed for history but a reservoir of 
human reserves: 

The river of welcome wherein the broken First Families fade, 

The great pool wherein womout breeds and clans drop for restorative silence. 

(p. 576) 

Death becomes here more than a minister of justice; it is the agent 
guaranteeing a constant renewal of human vitality purified of all corruption. 
Death in war is the one kind of extinction that threatens rather than feeds the 
life of the people. War is not a major subject of this poem of the Great 
Depression, but in other works the poet's horror of the appalling numbers of 
dead on the battlefields is consistent with his belief that the people's health 
depends on the normal flow between life and death, on a natural rise and fall of 
individuals from the great purifying pool of the people. ^^ 

The poem does not develop logically toward a conclusion; but as the 
intensity of its emotion increases, more and more hints are dropped that point 


to some optimistic resolution. The poet seems to concur with the people's belief 
that they have come far and will go farther yet (pp. 520, 596). The gains, 
although small, can be counted and the people's laughter in misery, 
foretokening revolt, carries fear to those in power (p. 537). What can stop the 
people from taking more of their own? (p. 555). Those who deny the people are 
heard for the last time and dismissed, for one by one they will pass "and rest 
amid silver handles and heavy roses/ and forgotten hymns sung to their 
forgotten names" (p. 606). Guesses govern the final sections in which the 
sleeping people awake, violently, and it is predicted, "Man will yet win" (p. 

They are but guesses, however, and as Oscar Cargill has suggested in his 
essay on the rather mild radicahsm of the poem, a belief that "the dream of 
equity will win" (p. 561) is the belief in a dream, not the reality. ^^ Our real 
yea-sayer speaks in the words, "The people will live on" (p. 615), and there 
only. Nothing in Sandburg's poem warrants a resolution between the forces of 
social justice and those who deny it and, indeed, the poet has not truly created 
one. His chief evidence has been that the people move constantly from chaos to 
order and to chaos again (p. 525). Poobahs rise until their use is over; then 
other poobahs step into their shoes and hold their poobah sway: "The same 
great river carries along/ its foamflecks of poobahs and plain people." All are 
carried together down the crumbling river of life (p. 544). It is a curiously 
static theory of history that causes the poet '.o deny the possibility of progress 
and development implicit in previous cyclic theories, those advanced in the 
nineteenth century, for instance, by Thomas Arnold and the liberal Anglicans. 

The people will live on. That is the Word. The machine world of the insects 
engaged in their engineering exploits carries lessons and warnings: "they do 
what they must," and the flowing of the stream of life clears it of the pollution 
of those who have forgotten how to work and the price at which it continues (p. 
562). The movement, not the end, is the object. Instinct explains the vague 
decree that comes to the people in the conclusion: " 'Tomorrow you do this 
because/ you can do nothing else' " (p. 611). When circumstances dictate the 
people will do what it must, not to obtain the millennium or final triumph over 
evil, but for life, the one thing that defines its immortality. 

Sandburg owes something to the evolutionism of the German Romantics, 
for whom truths were revealed through a religion of a struggling, gradually 
self-realizing Lif e - Force. ^'^ Arthur Lovejoy has shown this best by quoting 

Has creation a final goal? And if so, why was it not reached at once? Why was the 
consummation not realized from the beginning? To these questions there is but 
one answer: Because God is Life, and not merely being. All life has a fate, and is 
subject to suffering and to becoming. . . . Being is sensible only in becoming.!^ 

Our poet would seem to deny a faith in the proliferating growth and 
development of individual forms upon which this philosophy rests. Yet the 
people is always on the move; and in a world of eternal becoming, it never 
arrives. It attains self-realization by hearing the truth: " 'The voice of the 
people is the voice of God' " (p. 588). The people has heard. 


"Something began me 
and it has no beginning: 
something will end me 
and it has no end." (p. 589) 

That something, for the poet, is the great purified pool from which all 
energy and force of the people come. The voice of God is in all the words of the 
people— petty, commonplace, or exalted— heard throughout The People, Yes. 
The skeptical poet, haunted by thoughts of extinction, is subsumed in his 
dreambook for today. The people is God, immortal and divine; its life is "a 
hallelujah chorus forever changing its star soloists" (p. 588). These soloists are 
not individual men and women, but the mass, "a moving monolith" called the 
people. In the ceaseless force of its movement the poet finds its meaning and 
his own faith. 


"Band Concert," Complete Poems (New York: Harcourt, 1950), p. 90. Further 
references to this edition are indicated by page numbers inserted parenthetically in the text. 

^ "Carl Sandburg," New Republic, 9 Sept. 1936; rpt. in After the Genteel Tradition, ed. 
Malcolm Cowley (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1964), p. 69. 

^ William Alexander, in "The Limited American, the Great Loneliness, and the Singing 
Fire: Carl Sandburg's 'Chicago Poems,' " American Literature, 45 (1973), 67-68, sees both 
of these poems as belonging to a short sequence of poems-including the justly famous 
"Limited"-that strikes a major theme of American writing in the first thirty years of this 
century. In this sequence, Alexander suggests, the contemporary American is shown to have 
lost touch with the eternal verities and with his own deeper national traditions. My emphasis 
differs from his insofar as I try to see these early poems as being consistent with the poet's 
general sense of an inevitable decay and death of civilizations. 

^Arvin, in "Carl Sandburg," p. 69, cites the key images that are true emblems of the 
poet's almost unrelieved uncertainty: mist, fog, phantoms, ashes, and dust. One might add 

^ Carl Sandburg (New York: Twayne, 1964), p. 83. 

" "Carl Sandburg's Complete Poems," Poetry, Sept. 1951, p. 345. 

^ Henry E. Kolbe, Religion in Life, 27 (1959), 249. 


"Sandburg and 'The People': His Literary Populism Reappraised," /l/jr«ocA Review, 10 

(1950), 277-78. 

^ Collect and Other Prose, Vol. II oi Prose Works 1892, in The Collected Writings of 
Walt Whitman (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1964), pp. 391, 398. 

^^ Ibid., p. 391. 

"Proverbs in Carl Sandburg's Poem "the People, Yes,' " Southern Folklore 

Quarterly, 37(1973), 15. 


For lyrics in Chicago Poems and Cornhuskers that focus on large numbers — on the 

"acres" of men buried by the engines of modern warfare— see "Killers," "Statistics," 

"Buttons," "Wars," "Shenandoah," "Grass," "Out of White Lips," "A Million Young 

Workmen," "Smoke," and "The Four Brothers." 

^^ "Carl Sandburg: Crusader and Mystic," English Journal, 39 (1950), 182. 

Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea 
(1936; rpt. New York: Harper, 1960), p. 317. 

'^ Ibid., p. 318. 

Sandburg's Chromatic Vision in 
Honey and Salt 


Caroline Spurgeon reminds us that the act of seeing involves all that man 
is. It is the means by which, for example, the poet observes and absorbs a 
great part of life, engaging both the mentality and the imagination in receiving 
sight impressions, then describing them and giving them significance. The 
poet as a whole person is involved.^ 

Not least in the seeing process is the reception of colors, to which some 
observers are patently more sensitive than others. Faber Birren remarks, as 
case in point, that psychologists frequently find older people more inclined to 
notice form than color. '^ Birren is a well-known American consultant in color, 
author of numerous books on the subject with relation not only to personality 
but also to such topics as interior decoration, printing, packaging, sales, 
mental therapy, and painting. His clients have included many large 
businesses, and some twenty-five years ago he developed standards of color 
practice adopted by the United States Navy and Coast Guard. Birren's 
credentials are considerable. What he has to say about the connection between 
one's color preferences, age, and traits of character can be accepted with 
confidence, for his statements are drawn not from the surmises of tea-room 
faddists but from the considered conclusions of psychologists, psychoanalysts, 
and biologists after myriad experiments and discoveries. 

Carl Sandburg was an exception to Birren's generalization about the 
elderly and their apparent decreased interest in color, for as an old man (his 
last book was published on his eighty-fifth birthday) he was addicted to color 
more than were any of his contemporaries in their last work. His Honey and 
Salt (1963) makes reference to colors close to three hundred times, more often 
than not in observation of the phenomena of the natural scene. Although he 
moved from the Midwest to North Carolina twenty-two years before his death, 
he never forgot the prairies and the cornfields, the skies and the water of his 
birth region. On the other hand, always sensitive to the scene about him, he 
recorded the nuances of change in his new surroundings as well, including 
mountains and sea, from morning to evening, from day to day, from season to 
season. The hue and shade in which he took such pleasure is the subject of this 
essay, together with some speculation as to their possible psychological 
implications drawn from Birren's analysis. 

By way of contrast with Sandburg, Wallace Stevens refers to color only 
some forty-five times in "The Rock," the last section of his Collected Poems 

- 92 - 


(1954). The fact that Stevens by this time was almost totally ruminative ("The 
Plain Sense of Things," "The World as Meditation," "Not Ideas about the 
Thing but the Thing Itself) may in part explain not only the scarcity of color 
but also the tranquillity of what colors there are, the dominating greens and 
blues with dashes of brilliance only for accent. 

E. A. Robinson, in Nicodemus (1932), his final book of shorter poems, 
presents a different problem because of his bias toward character analysis. He 
uses black more than any other color, and that chiefly in describing the central 
figure of "Toussaint L'Ouverture." Total color references are fewer than in 
Stevens. Fire and blood, brought into the picture of violence in some of the 
poems, are next in frequency to black, but a paucity of vivid color is a marked 
trait of Robinson, whose efforts are expended not on exterior description but 
on attempts at understanding the interior lives of his characters. 

Ezra Pound's "Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII" (1969) contains 
a few whites, blues, and greens, a scattering of yellows, reds, blacks, and one 
gray. Had not the elderly Pound lost much of his energy? Had he not turned to 
contemplation at the cost of earlier exuberance and vituperation? Cool colors 
would tend to support such a conclusion. 

In Four Qimrtets (1943) of T. S. Eliot it is not surprising that "fire" 
("flame," "glow," "glare") exceeds the whites and grays by fourfold, for it is 
toward the "crowned knot of fire" that the soul is voyaging. Except for a few 
instances of red and sapphire, the other colors, thinly spread, are fairly 
subdued: brown, yellow, black, and green. The poet was only in his mid-fifties 
when Four Quartets was published, but after this book he turned his 
attentions to the drama. One can explain the colors in part by saying that much 
of the imagery is liturgical (fire) and also by recognizing that the poetry is 
largely cerebral (white and gray). On the whole, however, references to color 
are rare. 

In Book Five oiPaterson (1958, the poet being seventy-five) William Carlos 
Williams is persistent in his repetition of white, especially in the description of 
a unicorn and a tapestry. Other than the whites there is relatively little color, 
compared, for example, with the last poems of Stevens. One might speculate 
the cause as being Williams's scientific mind (accustomed to antisepsis) or 
possibly fidelity to the outward colorlessness of industrial New Jersey. 

Like Marianne Moore, E. E, Cummings distributes the colors with a steady 
unlavish hand in his last collection, 73 Poems (posthumous, 1963). Whites are 
more numerous than any other color. One would expect, if memory does not 
fail, some fair-sized quantities of green and gold, but there are only five of the 
one and four of the other. After two reds, the list dwindles to one reference 
each to blue, yellow, purple, and fire. In the last of these poems, Cummings 
uses the concept of timelessness to show what time is.^ Color finds no easy 
place in such transcendental abstraction. 

Robert Frost's last book of short poems to all intents and purposes ignores 
color. In the sixty pages of In the Clearing (1962) colors are named only nine 
times and then not always color for its own sake: "the Red Man," "da Gama's 
gold," "an albino monkey," "like a ripe tomato," "a pitch-dark limitless grove," 
"the orchard green," "flowery burst of pink and white," and "the Milky Way." 


For a poet who relates himself closely to the out-of-doors, this dearth is 
surprising. Page after page is devoid of even a hint of color. If Birren's 
observation is valid, that, as one ages, his interest is elsewhere than in color, 
then assuredly Frost as old man would be proof positive.'* 

Not so with Sandburg. In Honey and Salt over two hundred eighty-five 
color references occur, either by overt naming or by suggestion (in sixty-five 
pages of the Complete Poems^). With the exception of the Robinson and Frost 
books, the other collections we have named are considerably shorter, but, 
even so, to judge by the number of color references divided by the number of 
pages, no other major twentieth-century American poet born before 1900 was 
so prodigal of color as Sandburg. 

Victor Laprade, the nineteenth-century French poet, said that in order to 
be effective in writing and describing (he makes a play on peindre), it is not 
enough for a poet to think, but he must also see." It can be said that Sandburg 
began by seeing not only shapes, but tints. He had a vivid sense of color which 
he relied on all his life. His first book, Chicago Poems (1916), although not 
quite so "colorful" as Honey and Salt, nevertheless made use of hue and shade 
over two hundred fifty times. In this first book reds are prominent, for there is 
a great deal of brawling and heartiness as well as a sense of social injustice 
here (red being a color of violence). White is next, followed in frequency by 
yellow, brown, and gray in close order. Not so often, but at the same time not 
so sparse as in Williams or Moore, are green, blue, purple, flame, and black 
(but none of the pink to be found in the final book). 

Forty-seven years later, his life drawing to a close, Sandburg is still 
painting his images in varied and brilliant, often dazzling colors. Even when he 
does not mention particular hues, he is aware of the presence of "tint," "glint," 
"rainbow," "dark flower," and "sunny hill" as well as "crystal" and "prism," 
which reflect color. He records the achromatic object colors black and white in 
both literal description and imaginative figure (as we shall see) — white most of 
all, black ten times. 

Sandburg's long-time friend Archibald MacLeish said of him in a memorial 
address: "With Sandburg it is the body of the work that weighs, the sum of it, 
a whole quite literally greater than the total of its parts."' The first poem of 
Chicago Poems records details of a brawny metropolis; the last poem in Honey 
and Salt, over seven hundred fifty pages later, celebrates the evolutionary rise 
and triumph of the Family of Man. Between are hundreds of poems, long and 
short, made of particulars touched, smelled, tasted, heard, and above all seen, 
that add up to a holistic picture of life itself. This impressionistic collection 
emphasizes immediate objects and action without analytical attention or 
intellectual speculation. It reminds one of the painters of the last third of the 
nineteenth century (Monet, for example) whose short brush strokes of bright 
colors in close proximity put the burden of mixing on the mind and 
psychological reaction of the beholder. Honey and Salt's seventy-six poems 
focus on love and alienation (and evanescence), compassion and indifference, 
identity and the impersonality of number, but Sandburg's steady theme is 
empirical: the vanity of trying to attain abstract definitions of the big concepts. 
Day-by-day living and observing yield what answers are available. No one 
poem settles the matter; all the poems add up to the all-important sum total. 
His many metaphors for love, for example, are to be found in the unexpected 


little quotidian experiences. These seemingly inconsequential sights and 
sounds, to return to the Impressionists, become in juxtaposition the 
differentiated whole." 

In examining the color references, we will move from the smallest number 
to the greatest. Pink, purple, and black occur least of all in Sandburg's last 
book. Pink is the color of flamingo feathers (pp. 736, 763), but the poet carries 
the color into symbolism in his search for the qualities of love, an ultimately 
indescribable delicacy. A first sign of love is "pink doors closing one by one" (p. 
707), the seductive charm of narrowing choices. Just as Emily Dickinson 
(whom Sandburg admired) selected her "own society," so, says Sandburg, 
does the young lover see that he must close "pink doors . . . one by one." In 
another metaphoric use of color, Sandburg suggests the nubile properties of a 
burgeoning season in "The pink nipples of the earth in springtime" (p. 759), an 
image which has its source not only in the sight of fruit-tree blooms but in a 
sense of fertile youth and promise. The shade of rose in "First Sonata for 
Karlen Paula" serves as harmonizing factor: "rose-candle co-ordinations" (p. 
749) and "rose-light" as a pool in which floats a "ring of topaz," but this is 
virtually a literal description of the sky at daybreak. Elsewhere, the poet 
speculates that lovers may have talked of "wild arbutus they found" (p. 751). 
So, except for the pink doors and the pink nipples, Sandburg uses the color 
only to picture straightforwardly what he has seen. In context a mood of 
charm, softness, and warmth emerges. Birren says indeed that pink is the 
color of love and affection. A person who prefers it is said to be likable and to 
have a fond attachment for the full life, even although he may not have a 
strong capacity for participating in it. But note this: Sandburg chooses to color 
his images pink very rarely. 

Purple (including violet, amethyst, and lavender) is of no more interest to 
the poet than pink. He uses it to little symbolic purpose. It helps him to 
describe the sea (pp. 714, 722, 759), the distant scene— mountains and horizon 
(pp. 707, 743). the coming of evening (p. 730), and the wings of a luna moth (p. 
764). Only in one place does he put the evolutionary past far back "among 
lavender shadows" (p. 761), where the facts are hard to distinguish, where the 
purple shades are opaque screens between the here and the there, the now and 
the then. 

As for black, it describes the feathers of a crow (p. 763) and the rings of a 
caterpillar (p. 764), but it does more. It is the background for various forms of 
light: actual lights of an evening (p. 708) and fireworks contrasting with black 
water (p. 749); five brass ships in "pools of ink" (p. 724); lightning in "a black 
rain" (p. 720); and dawn coming "out of the night of black ice" (p. 710). This 
latter is somewhat symbolic, for day is pictured as warm and friendly in 
contrast with the darkness and potential hostility of night. The same kind of 
threat emerges in the image of love as a rose which will "curl black" (p. 737) as 
the relationship withers and in the emptiness of "the Black Void" (p. 767). On 
the other hand, no threat at all, but a voluptuous appeal is intended in "the 
black velvet sheen of midnight" (p. 736) and the beautiful and fresh image of 
"The long black eyelashes of summer's look" (p. 759). Contrast, background, 
threat, and luxuriousness— although black is in limited supply in this book, it is 
put to varied use. 


Green, flame, and brown are the colors next in frequency (about fifteen 
times each). Green is often the color of water, especially the sea (pp. 756, 759, 
760, 761), and of water creatures: lobsters are gray-green (p. 760) and 
sea-green (p. 763); a frog is as "green as the scum he sits on" (p. 764). Green is 
the color of mist (pp.767, 769), moss (p. 749), and a parakeet (p. 768). Only 
twice does Sandburg go beyond literal description: when he brushes in the 
scene of spring with a synecdochic "creep of green on branches" (p. 733) and 
suggests heat, sensuousness, and a slow pace in "pearl-green miles of summer 
months" (p. 764). 

Sandburg's use of fire and flame is in general conventional. He mentions 
Elijah's "chariot of fire" (p. 714); he pictures burning cornstalks lighting up the 
November sky with their fire (p. 727); a fire dancer waves "two flambeaus" (p. 
730); the "fire leaves" of a bonfire sing "a slow song" (p. 749). Flaming 
blossoms (pp. 731, 738), leaves (p. 770), and sun (pp. 710, 758) do not surprise 
the reader. It is natural for Sandburg to put flame and fire in opposition to 
coolness: colored leaves reflected in river water may suggest to the viewer a 
Nazi burning of a ghetto— "a slow fire of Warsaw" (p. 746); the earth is a 
"heaving fireball cooled off (p. 770); a dead man is "proof against/ ice or fire" 
(p. 726); in the long evolutionary poem "Timesweep," the poet uses a metaphor 
of "flame" to suggest the energy of the year's seasons at their peaks and the 
"cool" as their beginnings and endings: 

Each speaks its own oaths of the cool and the flame 
of naked possessions clothed and come naked again, (p. 759) 

Similarly, shades of brown (bronze, rust, sorrel, russet, umber, tan, 
tawny) are often very quick strokes of the impressionist's brush. They 
describe an evening sky (p. 724) and the foliage of autumn (pp. 745, 746, 759), 
which is also characterized by wheatstraw and cornshock (pp. 733, 745). 
Mention of "the red fox" (p. 765) implies orange-red to reddish brown. A pony 
on the prairie has a "sorrel face" (p. 768); pigeons are "mate brown" (p. 768). 

But brown adds to the poet's figurative language more than the colors we 
have considered so far. For lovers, as evening comes, the moon is "a bronze 
wafer" (p. 735). Ships at anchor "fade into walls of umber" (p, 724), The honey 
of the book's title poem is the golden side of love— the sweetness, the glisten 
(p.706). Love can appear unexpectedly, for sometimes "it's a summer tan" (p. 
706), but, unfortunately, love as symbolized by the rose can "wither brown" (p. 
737). Statues of strong leaders invite the epithet "bronze gods" (p. 721), al- 
though the seeming endurance of bronze must not be misleading ("Ubi 
sunt. . .?"). In giving advice to his granddaughter, the poet proposes occasional 
contemplation, the child seated "silent in a chair of tarnished bronze" (a brown 
study?), her mood a combination of quiet, antique music and autumn 
melancholy: "Now I will be/ a clavichord melody/ in October brown" (p. 750). 

Brown and its shades, according to Birren's researches,^" indicate 
substantiality, dependability, steadiness, agelessness. For Sandburg they 
would appear variously to hold these qualities, yes, but also a tinge of sadness, 
evanescence (when the rose turns brown, when day disappears into night), and 
introspection ("October brown"). 


Sandburg at eighty-five was more interested in gray than in the colors we 
have thus far touched upon (although other colors, as will be apparent, were 
still more useful to him). Gray (which in these poems includes "mousey," 
"gunmetal," and "smoke") is often the first choice of older, mature people; a 
quiet mixture of the entire spectrum, it typifies life on an even keel — nothing 
too much. 11 Although white, blue, and green are colors that the poet uses to 
color the sea, sometimes water is also gray, especially if the mood is 
meditative (pp. 711, 747, 748). The season of the year has an influence: 

To the north is the gray sky. 
Winter hung it gray for the gray 

elm to stand dark against, (p. 722) 

Fog is generally gray (pp. 729, 755), as when mountains in a Japanese print 
go "into gray shawls on Friday" (p. 743); and mountains themselves can be 
gray as they slope down "to the rivers" (p. 747). A tree frog is hard to 
distinguish against "the tree-bark-gray" (p. 764). More particularly, the bark 
of the hickory and the beech is gray (pp. 746, 770), the latter actually 
"silver-gray." Weevils leave "ashen paths" (p. 764). 

Sandburg encapsulates maternal love and influence in the phrase "a 
mother's grey eyes singing to her children" (p. 753). The quietness of a deep 
love is characterized by "a little gray sparrow" (p. 735) and the unpresumptive 
"my little pretty mousey love" (p. 735). Smoke as gray connotes such a mood as 
melancholy or loneliness in "those in smoke garments" (p. 731) or vagueness 
tinged with pensiveness in "the smoke-shadow of a dream" (p. 768). 

The poet puts gun-metal to two uses. He sees it first as the skeletal 
structure of a skyscraper: "The inside torso stands up in a plug of gun-metal" 
(p. 724). Then, the coming of evening is "a dusk of gun-metal" (p. 724). The 
most symbolic of the occurrences of the gray is in "Times weep," when the 
persona refers to himself (a Whitmanesque representative of the human race) 
as "one more swimmer in the gold and gray procession" (p. 771); that is, in life 
that is sometimes triumphant and ecstatic, noble and elevated, sometimes 
introspective and tranquil, sad and monotonous. 

From twenty-four references to grays, the leap to forty yellow-related 
hues is the beginning of an affirmative revelation about Sandburg. If we judge 
by his preferences in colors out of all the phenomena he could record in his 
world, Sandburg was no run-of-the-mill old man, content with a conventional 
modicum of grays, blacks, browns, and purples. A man who chooses yellows 
(including gold, brass, orange, saffron, and lemon), according to Birren, is 
good-natured and loves the companionship of other people. A man of good will, 
he is solicitous of others and even defers to their opinions and convictions. 
Characteristically euphoric, he rarely has mental problems, appears to be 
insulated against great heights and depths of emotion and intellect. A 
preference for various yellows shows imagination, interest in novelty, a 
nervous drive toward self -fulfillment. Yet the man may live in a world apart, 
introspective and contemplative.!^ 

Although in Sandburg's poems such comments as "brass is a hard lean 
metal" and "gold is the most ductile metal" (p. 710) focus on qualities of 
malleability, the sensitive reader is aware also of their yellowish color, much of 


which elsewhere occurs in straightforward description, recording, for 
example, the appearance of a lead pencil (p. 745), caterpillar rings and the 
wings of a lunar moth (p. 764), a fanciful "yellow horse" (p. 750), love as "a 
goldfinch" (p. 735), fireflies as "night gold" (p. 765). Autumn leaves, of course, 
he sees as yellow (pp. 743, 744, 746); wheatstraws are partly gold (p. 733), and 
corn is yellow (pp. 719, 727). The Missouri pours its yellow waters into the 
Mississippi ip. 719). Dust makes a yellow sheet over a cornfield (p. 753). In 
another season "the branches all end with the yellow and gold mice of early 
spring air" (p. 722). 

Gold and topaz brighten the sky as dawn comes on (p, 750). Reflection of 
light tints the water of a fish bowl until it becomes "molten-gold air" (p. 755). 
At the end of the day the setting sun accents the landscapes "with shot gold of 
an evening" (p. 753). The wings of birds flash "in sunset gold" (p. 732). Five 
ships are "sheathed in brass haze" (p. 724). Along the sky "long tubes spread 
lemon" (p. 746), the color caught "in the lemon sea" (p. 747). The moon itself is 
sometimes gold (pp. 735, 752, 764) and sometimes brass (p. 735). 

Oranges and bananas, just by being named, suggest their color (pp. 749, 
768). The loot from a sunken ship is brass (p. 718). In apparel the poet notes 
"cream gold buttons" (p. 742), "yellow silk bandannas" (p. 750), "a pair of 
orange slippers" (p. 750), and ochre as part of a jockey's silks (p. 728). 

More metaphorical is the description of life as a "gold and gray procession" 
I p. 771), gold bringing up images of brightness, triumph, and riches. In 
analyzing the first signs of love, the poet says it may be "a brass cry" or "a 
golden gong going ong ong ong-ng-ng" (p. 707), primarily onomatopoeic, but 
recalling color. Again, although he emphasizes metal as value, Sandburg 
suggests color in defining various levels of sin: brass and "old gold" (p. 748), an 
interesting reversal, for in the mercantile world gold would have greater 
monetary value than brass but here represents highly reprehensible offenses. 

From time to time the poet writes of the responsibility of a user of words. 
In "Almanac" (p. 712) he bids the reader to 

Take an alphabet of gold or mud and spell 
as you wish any words: kiss me, kill me, 
love, hate, ice, thought, victory. 

If the speller's letters are of mud, the words may be vicious; if on the other 
hand, they are of gold, the result may be loving, contemplative, triumphant. 

It is clear from this listing that Sandburg thinks highly of the euphoric and 
energetic color yellow and its related hues. As an old man he sees yellow more 
frequently in Honey and Salt than he did in the 1916 Chicago Poems. But even 
more is he drawn to images in red and blue and white. Red and blue, about 
equal in their appeal to the poet (references to each are in the mid-forties), 
generally are considered contradictory in their psychological implications. 

Red is the color of interests directed outward.^"' Through red the highly 
wrought emotions find release. (There are nearly twice as many reds in 
Chicago Poems as in the less explosive Honey and Salt.) A "red" man is more 
often than not vigorous, assertive, even impulsive, but with a base of deep 
sympathy. If his opinions are formed quickly, he is still not stubborn, but open 
to persuasion. 


In the use of red Sandburg is now and then deliberately obscure in his 
attempt to express the ultimately inexpressible. He wrote to G. D. Eaton on 
July 14, 1922: "For me, it is a test of a work of art whether it has the elusive, 
the incommunicable."^'* When his granddaughter asks, "Which of you on a 
golden morning/ has sent a silver bullet/ into a crimson target?" (p. 750). the 
reader's reaction must be mystification, for, although there is a hint of the 
rising sun, in context with "a silver bullet" there is no certain equation. 
"Copper" (p. 748), placed between "brass" on the one hand and "old gold" on 
the other, may indicate sins of middle seriousness, but the poet does not 
provide clarification. Some passionate mortal "may cry . . ./ for red answers to 
a white riddle" (p. 717), but why "red"? For unthinking, possibly violent 
emotional reaction? 

In a poem about Indians Sandburg employs the word copper three times, 
not only in indicating the skin hue of the people— "copper girl" and "copper 
men"— but in describing the evening sky: "the copper curve of prairie sunset" 
(p. 719). Blood, of course, brings red to mind (pp. 742, 763). Jockey's silks have 
red stripes (p. 728). "Red silk bandannas" (p. 734) and "red silk scarfs in a high 
wind" (p. 717) are symbols of love and passion. 

Typically the poet's reds, like most of his colors, are literal in their 
function. A fire dancer flourishes her torches and casts "red shadows" (p. 730). 
In one of his many metaphors defining love and the signs of love, Sandburg 
says that sometimes love comes as "a slow blinking of two red lanterns in river 
mist" ip. 708). The sun is red in the morning (p. 723) and casts a "bronze and 
copper path" for the approach of dusk, itself a "maroon" (p. 724). The poet 
warns that, for appreciation's sake, "The praise of any slow red moonrise 
should be slow" (p. 710). To some viewers the moon appears "a copper coin" (p. 
735), and at times there are "ribbons of red" across the sky (p. 753). 

Among the birds Sandburg chooses the redbird (tanager?) and the cardinal 
(p. 763) and a maroon cockatoo (p. 768). His hippopotamus is "red-mouthed" (p. 
728), his lobsters are "red and sea-green" (p. 763). In one of his obscure 
phrases he says of fish in a bowl that "their speech was scarlet" (p. 755), 
possibly explained by the reflection of light as they moved, breathed, and had 
their being. In seeking relevant metaphors for love, he speculates that perhaps 
love is "a big red apple" (pp. 736, 737), the color here not necessarily chosen for 
passion but for succulence and desirability. 

Red plants and flowers especially attract the poet's attention. Redhaws are 
said to be of a "gypsy crimson" (p. 745), and sumach is red and crimson (p. 
746). In the autumn "a red silk creeps among the broad ears" of corn, where 
also "A red flower ripens" (p. 727). In most passages the poet is more specific 
as to the kind of flower. Not unexpectedly, "Passion may come with baskets/ 
throwing paths of red rain flowers" (p. 717). (Is this a Sandburg invention? The 
dictionaries do not list "rain flowers.") He notes that "dahlia leaves are points 
of red" (p. 733), that poppies have "crimson sheaths" (p. 717), that carnations 
are crimson (p. 751). The rose is always red (crimson) in Sandburg — no yellow, 
no pink, no white, always red when the color is delineated. At dawn one sees 
"crimson ramblers/ up the ladders of daytime arriving" (p. 710). (Incidentally, 
this present participle echoes Sandburg's beloved Whitman.) But the rose he 
sees as inadequate symbol for love, although he struggles with it at length in 


"Little Word, Little White Bird" (pp. 735-40). Sandburg's argument is that the 
rose is easily destroyed and very easily replaced (pp. 737-38). The rejection of 
the rose comes in spite of eleven occurrences in fifteen lines. The rose appears 
twenty-six times in Honey and Salt, and there is no reason to think of it as of 
any other color than red. (As in Chicago Poems, there are here many flowers, 
most of them mentioned only once.) 

Interest in blue is about equal to interest in red in this final book. The 
combination, if we follow Birren, increases the complexity of Sandburg's 
portrait. Whereas red suggests an outgoing personality, blue is the color of 
deliberation and introspection.^^ A man who prefers blue is sensitive not only 
to others but to himself. He knows himself well enough that he can keep a firm 
grip on his enthusiasms and passions. A "red" man can be talked into seeing 
justification in the other side of a question, but a "blue" man, filled with 
considerable egotism, will hold to his opinions as the last word, fixed, 
inflexible. If fame comes to a man who prefers red, it generally is the result of 
his restlessness, whereas a man who chooses blue will achieve fame only 
through patience and perseverance. 

How then does Sandburg make use of blue? Generally in a quite 
conservative and conventional way. He sees water bugs as blue (p. 764) and 
notes that baboons have blue rumps (p. 766). Fog, mist, smoke, and flame are 
tinged with blue (pp. 708, 710, 749, 754, 758, 767). He speculates that "a quiet 
blue flower" or even specifically bluebells might have been in the lover's mind 
when he told his sweetheart, "Thou art like a flower" (p. 751). He celebrates 
the morning glory as it "staggers on/ a path of sea-blue, sky-blue/ Gettysburg 
Union blue" (p. 741). (Sandburg the Lincoln enthusiast is speaking here.) He 
describes the delphinium in his brother-in-law Edward Steichen's Connecticut 
garden as "a rocketform of blue" (p. 753) bearing "little mistblue cups" (p. 754). 

Distances make objects blue: there are "blue peaks" (p. 743); a haystack is 
a "blue smudge" (p. 753). And of course the sky is blue (pp. 716, 729, 743, 744, 
745, 753, 755, 759, 760, 763). In describing Lake Michigan the poet sees blue in 
constant interplay with white in true impressionistic style: "water blown from 
snowwhite mountains/ met the blue rise of lowland waters" (p. 732). And 
among other colors the sea is blue (pp. 722, 747, 748). In writing of "New 
Weather," Sandburg recalls that "Fair weather rode in with a blue oath" (a 
promise of continuance?). But what happened? "Blue rains soaked the lowland 
loam" (p. 733). 

Finally, in "Impasse" the poet seems to equate the mystery of tricks of 
magic with "offertories in blue," begging the performer to "Tell us again: 
Nothing is impossible./ We listen while you tell us" (p. 728). Men long for 
certainties, for reassurances, but the truth is that, when the show is over, 
confidence fades into the blue. 

White, supposed to denote naivete and innocence (in Sandburg surely only 
a pose), recalls purity and youth (which the impatience of some readers of this 
poet would label childishness). White is commonly associated with simplicity, 
candid honesty, and decency.^" Far from being an absence of color, however, 
white for Sandburg is a lively hue in its own right. Goethe is said to have 
considered white the brightest of all colors, and the same can be said of 
Sandburg, whose images do not tend toward the fearful white spider, moth. 


and heal-all of Frost's "Design," nor indeed the threatening whiteness of Moby 
Dick. Rather, characteristically, the whiteness of the salt in the title poem 
caUs forth the Biblical "savor" of a life lived in love (p. 706). 

More references to white than to any other color accent Honey and Salt 
(over fifty-five, including milk, snow, ice, lamb wool, silver, tin, and 
aluminum). Chicago Poems, forty-seven years before, contained about the 
same number, topped, however, by nearly seventy-five references to red, 
possibly because of Sandburg's bursts of violence in propagandizing for the 
labor force. In late June, 1917, in fact, he confessed to Amy Lowell that here 
and there he was able to detect such a strain in his verse at the expense of a 
more human quality.^' On the other hand, there is very little of the early 
stridency in Honey and Salt: years and conscientious effort had softened the 

Even Sandburg's use of ice and snow is not negative. Although the earth 
eventually should become an "iceball," it will be "heaving" (p. 770); "hills of 
ice" are actively inhabited by "polar bears" (p. 765). Leif Ericson sights "a soft 
white horse on the top cone of an iceberg" (p. 714); elsewhere an iceberg wears 
a "shining white hat" (p. 768). Snow is a covering, it blows, it is a bed (pp. 759, 
731, 767), although in "Old Hokusai Print" Sandburg considers "the white 
snow on the blue peaks" as "no dream snow" (p. 743). 

As for the "white" metals, Sandburg's passage on the various prices of sins 
in hell (graded according to veniality and gravity?) lists "tin and aluminum 
sins" and also "silver-dollar sins" (p. 748). Silver is indeed a frequent choice of 
the poet's. Even in its metallic uses it suggests whiteness: referring to 
payment, Phocion's executioner demands "more silver for more hemlock" (p. 
713); granddaughter Karlen Paula's obscure "silver buUet" (p. 750) is 
undeniably white against the crimson sunrise. The sound of silver causes a 
pleasant reaction in addition to its reflection of light: one of the first signs of 
love may be "a silver ring" (p. 707) as of a bell; the whippoorwill has a "silver 
throat" (p. 764). The shine of the sun is silver (pp. 749, 762) as it lights the legs 
of a spider (p. 754). And at night the moon can be silver (pp. 716, 735). 

Developing his theme of the family of man and the democracy of death, 
Sandburg reminds us that "all ^ones [are] white" (p. 742). Elsewhere, he 
points out that the elephant ha; "straight ivory tusks" (p. 736). Innocent 
whiteness is apparent in the act of "a child drinking a bowl of milk" (p. 745). 
The poet recollects how his granddaughter was entranced by foxgloves one 
summer day— by "The snowsilk buds" and the "deep wells of white," a part of 
the bloom (p. 727). He pictures "lotus and pond lilies" as white (p. 764). 

In the evening, as the moon comes up, it turns "the corners" of a 
skyscraper into "white prisms and spikes" (p. 723). In fact at one stage the 
moon itself is white (pp. 722, 755) as is the starlight (p. 749). Of a morning 
comes "A white shot dawn" (p. 755). In rising smoke the poet sometimes sees 
"Sheet white egg faces" (p. 756), not always gray. The whiteness of wool helps 
Sandburg describe a cloud, which takes various shapes, including "six white 
snakes" (p. 724), not threatening, simply passing. In order to describe the 
delicacy of love, he says it is "thinner than snowwhite wool finespun" (p. 758). 

A sorrel horse has "a white forelock" (p. 768). More figuratively, "Love is a 
white horse you ride" (p. 751) (an unconscious borrowing from the scenes of 


knightly romance?). Again the "moving cloud" takes "A white horse shape" (p. 
724). Transferring the figure to the waves of the ocean, the poet likens the 
breakers to white horses (pp. 708, 710, 767). He says further that "white sea 
spray" can create loneliness (p. 740), but high-rising waves can be exciting 
"snowwhite mountains" (p. 732). "Lake Michigan Morning" (p. 732) is 
structured, as we have seen, on an impressionist's constant interaction of blue 
and white: "Blue bowls of white water/ Poured themselves into white bowls of 
blue water." The wind is sometimes "white" (pp. 733, 750), probably in its 
relation to the clouds. Some birds are white— a g^ll (p. 760) and an albatross 
(p. 768). In his search for the aptest symbol for love, Sandburg settles (with 
much repetition and much testing of other images) on an anonymous "little 
white bird" (pp. 739, 740). 

love is a little white bird 

and the flight of it so fast 

you can't see it 

and you know it's there 

only by the faint whirr of its wings 

and the hush song coming so low to your ears 

you fear it might be silence 

and you listen keen and you listen long 

and you know it's more than silence 

Here is the living white of simple directness, without duplicity, without 
calculation, but requiring sensitive attention. 

Symbolic use of white occurs in other lines. What is "a white riddle" (p. 717) 
if not an unsolvable mystery? What is "a little mouth's white yearning" (p. 724) 
if not the inexpressible longings of innocence? 

Could one white gull utter a word — 

what would it be? 

what white feather of a word? (p. 760) 

White here, as in "a white riddle," is the ineluctable mystery, "the elusive, the 
incommunicable." For the most part, however, Sandburg's white is 
representative of his participation in life, not a withdrawal. In conjunction 
with his active choice of other colors it shows him to have been a complex man. 

In view of his clear loyalty to the United States, and particularly his 
continuing interest in Lincoln, the American common man, and the historic 
growth of the country [Remembrance Rock provides a sweeping panorama), it 
is a startling coincidence that the poet's vision of this land as recorded in 
Honey and Salt is dominated by red, white, and blue. 

For a final impressionistic admixture of hues, one can look at "Runaway 
Colors" (p. 753), where in six lines the poet creates from the countryside a 
riotous melange which the reader (viewer) must merge into a harmonious 
whole. Nine words and phrases either are specific in naming color or at least 
succeed in bringing color to mind: "smoke of these landscapes," "sun," "shot 
gold," "grey," "blue smudge," "yellow dust," "ribbons of red," "crows," and 
even "pits," which calls up the blackness of a storage hole (not the dead 
blackness of a grave). 

Perhaps if Sandburg had turned his attention away from tints and shades 
toward (for old men) the normative abstractions of form, line, and structure. 

SANDBURG'S //OyV£'y/liVD5/4Z.7" 103 

he would have been able to achieve greater profundity and to arouse more 
widespread critical interest, but he probably would have lost his readership. 
The direct, simple, mainly primary coloring of his images may have been 
related to his lack of interest in the intricacies of philosophic speculation that 
attracted, tor example. Frost, Stevens, and Eliot in their last works. He 
appeared rather to find satisfaction in accurately recording the outward 
appearance of what he saw in his kaleidoscopic universe. 

In part, then, his continued youthful eye for color can be attributed to his 
determined purpose to direct his poems toward the "simple people," as he 
himself called the common folk of America, readers with unsophisticated 
literary taste (of course, they were not his exclusive patrons). Such an attitude 
kept his thoughts on the thoughts of the man in the street and field, his eye on 
the cityscape, seascape, mountainscape, landscape as that man would want to 
see them and write of them if he had the talent. As Sandburg grew old, his 
experience of the world naturally affected his intellectual views. But his hope 
for mankind was irrepressible in the face of social breakdown or even 
holocaust, and he tempered what he was seeing with the constant idealism we 
generally attribute to youth not yet made cautious by a tragic view. Sandburg, 
the old man, transcended tragedy. He lifted up his eyes and was refreshed by 
nature both around him and in his memories of Illinois. Hence, his poems were 
colorful to the very end. His capacity for enjoying and sharing with his readers 
the scenes he loved was part of the reason his lines retained the colors that are 
said to appeal to the young. His never-discarded esteem for the man of the 
masses restrained him from extended philosophical profundity even in his last 
book. This caused him to create descriptions of a bright environment that such 
a man would read with appreciation. Those pictures would at the same time be 
recognizable to the ordinary reader and also open up his experience of the 
universe through the insights of a poet who loved him and spoke his language. 

If Sandburg chose to see the world in bright, sanguine colors, we cannot 
register surprise. His letters, his interviews, his biographies reveal that he 
was a warm, outgoing, thoughtful American, filled with humor and undeniable 
joie de vivre, in love with his homeland and dedicated to its people. Although 
his colors hardly ever serve to complicate matters and color as symbol is rare, 
Sandburg in his old age, instead of looking for subdued hues in reserved 
quantities, was using vivid colors in greater abundance than any of his 
contemporaries. It is testimony to an interest in the phenomena of life 
ordinarily associated with the vigor of youth. 


Caroline Spurgeon. Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us (Cambridge: 
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1952), p. 57. 

^ Color: A Survey in Words and Pictures (New Hyde Park, N. Y.: University Books. 
1963). p. 187. Noted hereafter as Color. 

E. E. Cummings. Complete Poems (New York: Harcourt. 1972), p. 845. Cf. Jane 
Donahue. "Cummings' Last Poem: An Explication, " Literatur in Wissenschaft and 
Unterricht (Kiel). 3 (1970), 106-08. 


Although Hart Crane was much younger, he died thirty-five years before Sandburg and 
is often classed as his "contemporary." In the poems composed after The Bridge (that is, 
within the last two or three years of his Hfe), Crane used color more than any of the other 
poets save Sandburg. Shades of white predominate, not always a vivid white, but sometimes 
"ashen" and "brine-caked." Over fifty instances of color (in wide variety) occur in the 
thirty-nine pages of his late poems, including "Key West: An Island Sheaf and "More Late 
Poems." Of course, one must bear in mind that he was still a young man (thirty-three) when 
he died, before he had lost his young man's predilection for color. 

Carl Sandburg, Complete Poems (New York: Harcourt, 1970), pp. 706-71. 

"Pour ecrire en poete, pour peindre, il ne suffit pas d'avoir pensf, il faut avoir vu." Le 
Sentiment de la nature. Quoted by Spurgeon, p. 57. 

Sandburg, Complete Poems, p. xx. 


In keeping with this concept of one large impressionistic poem, the references in 
parentheses are to pages (except where noted) rather than to titles in the Complete Poems. 

^ Color, p. 195. 

^0 Ibid., p. 200. 

^^ Ibid., p. 201. 

^2 Ibid., p. 196. 

1^ Ibid., pp. 193-94. 

The Letters of Carl Sandburg, ed. Herbert Mitgang (New York: Harcourt, 1968), 
pp. 210-11. 

15 Color, p. 198. 

1^ Ibid., p. 201. 

^^ Letters, pp. 119-20. 

Sandburg and the Lincoln Biography: 
A Personal View 


I first saw Carl Sandburg at a meeting of the Illinois State Historical 
Society in 1950. All state historical societies are admixtures of antiquarians, 
genealogists, and professional historians, and must perforce tailor their 
offerings to the varied interests of their membership. Sandburg obviously had 
been added as the penultimate offering of the weekend, a presentation 
calculated to insure full attendance at earlier sessions of the Society. 

Sandburg had ended his monumental celebration of Abraham Lincoln more 
than a decade earlier, and it had indeed become a kind of classic of good writing 
and bad history. In fact, in most traduate schools of history, it was a vogue 
current in 1950 to refer to Sandburg as a third-rate historian, a second-rate 
poet, and a first-rate personality. What had puzzled most professional 
historians, men such as Benjamin Thomas of Springfield, Illinois, and James G. 
Randall at the University of Illinois, was exactly where Sandburg had found 
much of his material for his Abraham Lincoln. Both men were on hand to hear 
Sandburg at that meeting which, incidentally, was held at New Salem, Illinois, 
a reconstruction of the village in which Lincoln made his first permanent 
settlement in Illinois. 

My own associations with the ( ivil War professionals had been formed on 
my student-teacher relationship with Professor Randall, who was then in the 
midst of writing his brilliant Lincoln, the President. To this day I can still see 
Randall shake his head over some part of Sandburg's The Prairie Years, 
wondering whether somewhere or somehow there was truth in this or that 
particular piece of writing, or whether they were part of Sandburg's well-used 
poetic license. Even then, there was no doubt that much of Sandburg's 
material was based on rumor and hearsay, and it was often claimed that, by 
using the same kinds of sources, he could just as well have written a 
scatalogical version of Lincoln which would have brought lynching parties to 
the Sandburg residence. Yet, it was difficult in any case to prove Sandburg 
wrong in certain segments of his writing. No one knew where to go to find 
proof of error, and perhaps now it is beyond the possibility to do so. 

At any rate, Sandburg made his appearance at New Salem State Park, and 
it was certainly a grand one. It was, as I recall, a sparkling fall day full of 
greens, oranges, yellows, ochres, and sun and shade. The elms were still tall in 
Illinois then, not having yet been felled by blight. One must even suppose that 

- 105 - 


Sandburg's favorite wild shrub called sumac was in rare color. The poet- 
historian stood in front of the replica of the Lincoln-Berry store and gave one of 
the most brilliant performances I had seen in my young life. It wasn't that he 
was a good singer— f^af he certainly was not. It was just that he was 
Sandburg! He was dressed in black, a kind of Protestant version of clerical 
garb set off by a starched white shirt and a black string tie — exactly the type 
of tie Lincoln generally wore. His hair was a snowfall over one eye, and every 
so often, when he reached a pause in one of his songs, he lifted his right hand 
from the strings of his guitar in order to push the hair back from his forehead. 
It was a typical Sandburg gesture, rich because it was part of the personality 
of the whole man. 

I do remember that I came away from that New Salem weekend with a 
number of inner impressions. As Sandburg alternately roared and whispered 
his way through Lincoln's favorite songs, I was drawn to make my own 
comparison between Lincoln's own life and that of Somerset Maugham's 
"verger."^ The verger, in Maugham's great story, was fired from his jjarish 
because he had never learned how to read and write. But he invested his 
savings in a string of tobacconist shops and became, as a consequence, a 
millionaire. Maugham's ultimate question was: "What if the verger had known 
how to read and to write?" The answer is that he would have remained a 
verger. What would Lincoln have become (or parenthetically Harry Truman) if 
he or Harry had succeeded in their respective business enterprises? 

A second feeling that I brought home from New Salem was possibly less 
abstract. In order to see Sandburg better, I had placed myself a little to the 
side and slightly behind him. There I could see the reaction of the crowd as 
well. I really cannot remember what Sandburg was singing at the moment— it 
may well have been "The Blue-Tailed Fly" — but I can recall focusing upon 
Professor Randall, the most important historian present. I had been fairly 
close to Randall at the University of Illinois, in his seminars and several 
classes, and I felt that I could gauge when he was bemused and when he 
wasn't. In this instant a look came across his face which was, at once, one of 
revelation and admiration. Randall had just finished a good part of his Lincoln, 
the President, and he seemed almost to De saying to himself: "I will win 
professional respect, but Sandburg has won the royalties!" 

I suppose what Randall had recognized was the essence of Sandburg's 
success. He was a colorful personality with a flair for poetic tonality. But most 
of all, he had gotten to a part of the real Lincoln in his biography, and he had 
done it before anyone else. None of this had come easily to Sandburg. Back in 
his college days at Lombard, in between his classes and athletics, he had 
become intrigued with Lincoln's character. Even then he made an effort at 
gathering Lincoln anecdotes from people — people who had known Lincoln, and 
people who had known people who were acquainted with Lincoln. Even then, it 
is quite likely that Sandburg did not question his sources, and that he accepted 
quite easily what he was told about the Railsplitter and his early years. One is 
even inclined to suspect that, with all of the tale gathering which Sandburg did 
at this time, he himself forgot where he had heard some of the Lincoln 

Sandburg's odyssey was a never-ending search, and he did what was 
absolutely necessary to obtain any material he could find. He spent many 


weekends in boozy interviews with Joseph W. Fifer, a former governor of 
Illinois. It is doubtful whether Fifer had ever really known Lincoln; after all, 
he had enlisted as a private in Mr. Lincoln's army in the early Civil War years. 
But later, as a high official of the State of Illinois, he had heard a multitude of 
stories about Lincoln, and under the influence of Kentucky Straight with 
branch water, he was much inclined to talk. Sandburg became acquainted with 
Fifer before the colors faded, plied him with a largesse of his favorite drink, 
and came away with a treasure trove of fact and fancy. ^ 

As it was, Sandburg never used this material for decades, and it is possible 
that he might have remained a lesser writer with a sectional reputation if fate 
had not intervened. In 1922, when he had almost completed his Rootabaga 
Stories for children, his publisher Alfred Harcourt suggested that he write a 
children's book on Lincoln. Sandburg agreed, and went back to Elmhurst, 
Illinois, where he lived. There he began to put all of his Lincoln materials 

What happened, of course, is that the story of Lincoln got away from him. 
The subject was too enormous and complex, and Sandburg had fallen so much 
in love with the elemental earthiness of the man that the writing went on and 
on. During and after the completion of what was to be The Prairie Years, 
Sandburg made some interesting admissions. They are keys to the 
understanding of the author within the whole Lincoln theme. In a bit of 
correspondence with Lloyd Lewis, another newspaperman-historian who was 
to produce a fine biography of U. S. Grant, Sandburg admitted: "The Lincoln 
drags ... at least a dozen chapters have to be entirely rewritten, early ones 
where my ignorance was stupendous and will still be there when the job is 
done."*^ To another friend Sandburg complained: "I found myself not guiding, 
but being guided by, the material."^ Later, in a letter to Gamaliel Bradford of 
Massachusetts, Sandburg reminisced about his writing. "There were times 
when I was on the Lincoln book," he wrote, "that I felt as if in a trance, saw 
automobiles as horses and wagons, and saw cities of brick and stone dissolve 
into lumber cottages and shanties. . . ."^ 

The Prairie Years was finally finished in 1925. Sandburg took the bulging 
manuscript to Alfred Harcourt, who immediately gave it to Van Wyck Brooks, 
then a major Harcourt reader. Brooks was overwhelmed by the imagery which 
Sandburg had woven into his writing, and by the presence of a Lincoln hitherto 
unknown." There were moments when Sandburg piled detail upon detail in 
order to create an effect. One ten-line description of Lincoln's Springfield, as it 
was in 1837, had farmers hauling corn, wheat, potatoes, and turnips. Wagons 
rolled up and down the streets, axles creaking, pulled by foam-flecked horses 
whose sides heaved under the lashings of drovers. Hogs piled down the 
sidewalks by the dozens. Men on horseback spurred from one store to another. 
But they were not just horses in Sandburg's imagination — they were "roans, 
grays, whites, black horses with a white star in the forehead."^ It was all more 
a grist for movie scripts than good historical writing, but Harcourt and Brooks 
knew a best seller when they saw one. 

Almost immediately parts of the book were sold to Pictorial Review for 
what was then considered an enormous sum. A year later, Harcourt, Brace 
and Company produced the book in hardback. Praise wafted up from editorial 


rooms throughout the nation. The book was extolled in England by reviewers 
whose comprehension of the vastness of Lincoln's West was most limited. In 
the United States, H. L. Mencken, who thought himself the only realistic cynic 
qualified to make judgments, called the book the beginning of the "best 
American biography. . . ."° Paul Angle, then a rising Lincoln historian in the 
Midwest, called the writing incomparable, though a few years later he was to 
complain that the "historical writer can hardly omit all mention of the 
materials he has used." Sandburg had indeed failed to offer citations for his 
sources, and he had provided no bibliography.^ 

Praise for The Prairie Years was not completely unqualified, however. 
Some critics were quick to note that Sandburg had placed Crawfordsville, 
Indiana, on the banks of the Wabash River, an obvious error. He had even 
interjected that Percy Bysshe Shelley, the English poet, had drowned in an 
Italian lake rather than in the Gulf of Spezzia. A few other critics, people like 
Edmund Wilson, the eastern esthete, complained about the "corn" and the 
maudlin sentiment which ran through stretches of Sandburg's writing. Wilson 
noted that, in the first edition of The Prairie Years, Sandburg had Lincoln 
kneeling at the bedside of his dying mother while "her bony hand" ran back 
and forth through the boy's "sandy black hair." Her "fluttering words seemed 
to say he must grow up and be good to his sister and father." It was ridiculous 
writing, Wilson pointed out, and from the standpoint of hindsight and truth he 
was absolutely right. Sandburg had not written history; he had made up a 
story right from the wisps of his fertile imagination.^^ 

Despite the occasional criticisms of classroom professionals and the 
complaints that the reader couldn't tell where imagination blended into fact, 
the book was a best seller. For the most part it deserved to be. Sandburg had 
opened up a box of secrets about Lincoln, and he had sought to find the 
essential man. It was not that there had been a lack of previous writing on 
Lincoln. Indeed, much research had already been done concerning the Great 
Emancipator. But what Sandburg did was to provide Lincoln with a soul, a 
development which took place at about the same moment the nation was in 
search of its own. It must be remembered that the 1920's had been a decade of 
some rather sordid happenings— the Teapot Dome Scandal, the Veterans 
Bureau corruption, the aftermath of the "Blacksox" revelations, and Al Capone 
in Chicago. With all of that, the nation was athirst for heroes. Charles A. 
Lindbergh was only dreaming of flying the Atlantic at the time of Sandburg's 
first Lincoln volume, so the nation would have to wait for that event. Until 
then, Lincoln, with all of his myths and realities, would suffice. It was as Harry 
Golden was to write later: "The six volumes [the entire Abraham Lincoln] not 
only re-create what America was but what America could and morally ought to 

The impact of The Prairie Years upon the literary and intellectual life of 
America was incredible. Hollywood sought to capitalize upon the new wave of 
Lincolniana with two early sound movies — the first with Walter Huston in the 
leading role, the second a John Ford movie with Henry Fonda playing Lincoln. 
Robert Sherwood, as shall be elaborated upon later, added his own 
interpretations to Sandburg's material with a play called Abe Lincoln in 
lUinois. American composers, especially Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, 


tried to catch Civil War moods and nuances in their music. But even more 
importantly, within the decade following the publication of The Prairie Years, 
the hyperactive propagandists of the New Deal made valiant attempts to 
merge the Lincoln theme with the political revolution of the 1930's. 

In retrospect it almost seems inevitable that Lincoln would be transfused 
into the bloodstream of the New Deal. Sandburg had once expressed the 
opinion that what Lincoln was during the first fifty-two years of his life 
determined what he was to be in the last four. That sort of statement is hardly 
a profundity; we are all products of our past. But quickly after the 
inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, it was pointed out that the 
President had gone the same route as Lincoln. His earlier years were filled 
with pain and anguish; they were part of his preparation for greatness. ^^ 

Such transferences were much less outrageous than what was to come, 
however. In 1938, the Works Progress Administration produced a play written 
by E. P. Conkle entitled Prologue to Glory, virtually all of it based upon 
Sandburg's first volumes on Lincoln. But Conkle elevated poetic license far 
beyond the point at which Sandburg had stopped. He later admitted that the 
play made no "attempt to be true in all its historical details. . . ."^^ Set in New 
Salem in 1831, it limned Lincoln as a figure made desolate by the death of Ann 
Rutledge, whose demise, it seemed, was made infinitely more easy by the 
machinations of vaguely identified political and business interests. One would 
be hard put to conceive that business was big enough in New Salem to center 
itself upon poor Ann. After all, Lincoln himself couldn't even get the Lincoln- 
Berry store off the ground. But it must be remembered that in 1938, President 
Roosevelt had moved far to the political left, and the "bad guys" were on the 
business and political right. Roosevelt had already attacked the Supreme 
Court, and he had made popular the phrases "malefactors of great wealth" and 
"economic royalists." When Conkle had his Lincoln curse those who stood in 
the way of the best interests of the "people," his viewers got the message. 
Roosevelt as well as Lincoln was knight errant. 

The trouble with Conkle's play was that the message was too transparent. 
It was really quite amazing that Prologue to Glory lasted on the boards as long 
as it did. Yet, while the corpse of Conkle's effort was still warm, Robert 
Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in lUinois opened on Broadway. Sherwood's play, like 
that of Conkle's, was a rehash of The Prairie Years with some further 
adulterations. Despite these handicaps, the play was an immediate success, 
and well it should have been because of its marvelous acting and direction. 
Once again it was calculated to tie Roosevelt to the Lincoln legend. 

Propaganda is such a harsh word, even now, but the proof of Sherwood's 
intentions lay in his third-act presentation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. 
Raymond Massey, a conservative in 1976 but a liberal in 1938, played the 
Lincoln role and even he caught the implication of Sherwood's lines. Massey 
was to tell the New York Times that Lincoln was definitely a New Dealer, and 
that "Roosevelt . . . stands in the broad tradition for which Lincoln fought. "^^ 
A later Times reporter went on to call Lincoln's rebuttal to Douglas "one 
applicable to current events as well as to events preceding the Civil War."^^ 

While Sandburg was delighted with the play, he had little to say about the 
way in which Sherwood had used the materials from The Prairie Years. Of 


course Sandburg's own roots were deeply embedded in socialism, and when 
Roosevelt commenced a more radical phase of the New Deal, he was quick to 
give his support to the administration. Sandburg did not even question 
Sherwood's further extension of the crusade to identify Roosevelt with 
Lincoln. The year 1938 was a year of labor strikes and of Roosevelt's ill-fated 
assault upon the Supreme Court. In Sherwood's mind anything that labor did 
was proper, and he has his stage Lincoln say: 

It seems obvious to me that this nation was founded on the supposition that men 
have the right to protest, violently if need be. against authority that is unjust or 
oppressive. The Boston Tea Party was a kind of strike. So was the Revolution 

Sherwood's Lincoln attacks the Supreme Court directly, and the 
implication of his words is that skullduggery and corruption carry more weight 
on the bench than does the rule of law. Within a few years— when the Court 
was changed in composition and had become dominated by New Deal 
appointees— Sherwood became one of its more ardent supporters. It all 
seemed wildly hypocritical in 1938, however, for though Sherwood's Lincoln 
could support violent resistance to law and authority by the labor movement, 
the real Lincoln was forced to fight a four-year war in an attempt to enforce 
law and authority. 

All of these developments do indicate fiat Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln 
had a stirring effect upon the radical chi- of the 1930's. While Sandburg 
pressed the Lincoln-Roosevelt connection in his lectures on the college circuit, 
Roosevelt's speech writers did the same for the incumbent President. In a 
sense then, Sandburg's biography of Lincoln was both a catalytic agent and a 
product of the times in which it was popular. In 1934, during a "fireside chat," 
Roosevelt argued that he believed as did Lincoln, that the "people" should do 
for themselves what others wouldn't do for them. In 1936 he told the American 
people that "we can renew our pledge of fidelity to the faith which Lincoln held 
in the common man." Two years later he said: "Lincoln, too, fought for the 
morals of democracy. "■'^' 

These years represented the spring tide of Sandburg's life, and we may 
assume that he reveled in the adulation of his colleagues. But, with the coming 
of World War II and the emergence of a new group of skilled Lincoln 
historians, Sandburg's preeminence began to wane. His scholarship and 
research methods came under increasing scrutiny. Most of all, it became 
obvious that Sandburg had depended far too much upon hearsay in his 
writings, and upon that well-meaning but sometimes undependable source, 
William Herndon.^" 

Herndon was undoubtably one of the brightest young men in Lincoln's 
Illinois. He was Lincoln's law partner during the 1850's, and kept the law firm 
going when its senior member was called to Washington. In 1865, almost in the 
very instant after Lincoln's assassination, Herndon realized the importance 
which the martyred President was to have in history and national mythology. 
He literally and figuratively got on his horse and rode to the New 
Salem-Petersburg area in order to interview all of those who claimed to have 
known Lincoln in his youth. Since he had a flair for writing and since he could 


slip into his manuscripts all of the nuances and implications of what he had 
heard, his words were to have an enormous impact upon the unfolding of the 
Lincoln legend. Furthermore, he had actually worked with Lincoln— he had 
known the everyday man as he had revealed himself in daily dealings— and the 
result was that he was able to fit pieces and patterns together in the overall 
Lincoln puzzle. 

The trouble was that Herndon had numerous prejudices which cut against 
the grain of fact. There were possible facets of Lincoln's past which Herndon 
really wanted to believe, and he directed his investigations in such a manner 
that these facets became goals. He had an abiding hatred for Mary Todd 
Lincoln, for instance, and he was determined to prove that she was Lincoln's 
cross. So what Herndon did in the case of Ann Rutledge was to put one and one 
together and come up with three. Lincoln had known a girl in New Salem by 
the name of Rutledge. Lincoln had fits of melancholia from time to time. Since 
Herndon had some first-hand evidence of spats between Lincoln and his wife, 
he went right on to a wrongful conclusion. Lincoln had loved Ann, he went into 
a temporary insanity when the girl died, and Lincoln's married life with Mary 
Todd was dominated by remembrances of things past.^^ 

Sandburg swallowed the Herndon assumption entirely and willingly, for 
after all it fitted his own romantic concept of Lincoln's prairie years. Today, 
the Ann Rutledge story is regarded as sheer hogwash. for the only fact we 
know of her relationship with Lincoln is that they did know each other. Ruth 
Painter Randall, in her brilliant but uneven book, Mary Lincoln Biography of 
a Marriage, not only buried the Ann Rutledge story for good but she made 
Mary herself a character worth studying. ^^ That last development probably 
accounts for the fact that at least two Broadway plays in the past five years 
have centered on Mary's unfortunate life, Look Away (1972) and The Last of 
Mrs. Lincoln (1972), as well as one television series, Mrs. Lincoln's Husband 

But Mrs. Randall's exculpation of Mary was to come three decades after 
The Prairie Years. In the 1930's, Sandburg's description of Lincoln's supposed 
romance with Ann, along with Edgar Lee Masters' poem about the young girl, 
resulted in a synergetic effect. Sherwood's play and the two Lincoln movies of 
the decade added to the fiction. The town officials of Petersburg hurried out to 
New Salem to claim the "remains" of Ann Rutledge so that they might be 
buried with decency in the town cemetery, which incidentally is close to the 
business district as well. It is really doubtful that anything could have been 
found after so long a time, and I have been told by one expert that what was 
really removed to Petersburg was no more than one button and an 
indeterminate bone. Yet, year after year, tourists wander into the Petersburg 
cemetery to view the Rutledge plot, and to read the Masters' lyric which is 
carved into a stela. ^^ 

Sandburg followed his study of Lincoln's early life with an intricate and 
involved presentation of Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. It too was 
successful and, like the earher volumes, its theme was readily worked into the 
warp and woof of the New Deal. Yet, by 1940, the Sandburg works on Lincoln 
were out of print and, in truth, the New Deal had come to an end as well. The 
immediate postwar years brought only a mild revival of interest in Sandburg's 


works, but this came about mostly as a result of clarifications about Lincoln's 
life by professional historians. 

In 1950, these same professionals honored Sandburg with a round of parties 
and banquets in Illinois. This was the occasion for the aforementioned New 
Salem appearance by the poet-historian. Virtually all of these historians were 
members of an unofficial Lincoln "clan." Harry and Marion Pratt were there. 
Both were working upon a gigantic project aimed at accounting for Lincoln's 
activities each day of his life. Paul Angle came down from Chicago, and Allan 
Nevins journeyed back to his native state from Columbia University. Benjamin 
Thomas, the author of the best one- volume Lincoln biography, was also 
present. ^^ 

Throughout the several weeks of Sandburg's visit to Illinois there were 
numerous gatherings designed to honor Sandburg for his work on the Lincoln 
theme. Frederick Hill Meserve, whose collection of Lincoln photographs was 
the greatest in the country, recalled Sandburg's days as a lecturer in one of the 
dedicatory speeches in the poet's honor. "I can hear the extraordinary voice," 
wrote Meserve, "now whispering soft, now booming loud, slowed down almost 
to stopping one moment, words mouthed and rolled on the tongue and lingered 
over, then suddenly rippUng and tripping forth in a heart-jumping change of 
pace."^^ Irving Billiard, the brilliant editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 
added a little note about Sandburg's literary addiction to sumac. He, Billiard, 
promised to gather some sprigs of Illinois sumac and send them periodically to 

Television further hailed the rediscovery of Sandburg, and he appeared on 
a number of programs during the 1950's. In 1959 and 1960, the Bell Publishing 
Company persuaded Sandburg to cut his six volumes oi Abraham Lincoln into 
three paperbacks, and it was in these volumes that Sandburg admitted his 
inadequacies of historical scholarship in the first editions of the work. He 
agreed that the Ann Rutledge "romance" had been an improbable one, and he 
carefully screened out many of the overdone descriptions of Lincoln and his 
surroundings. The reprints are not good reading, for the surgery performed 
by Sandburg destroyed the mood of the writing as well as the blights within it. 

It was during this last upsurge of Sandburg's popularity that I had my last 
glimpse of the man. The year 1958 was the centennial of the Lincoln-Bouglas 
debates, and the Illinois Historical Society along with the City of Galesburg 
planned a celebration of the event. Once again Allan Nevins came back to 
Illinois, and Bruce Catton, now in the throes of producing his military studies 
of the Civil War, was also on hand. I can still remember Catton's look of 
surprise and pleasure at hearing some of the more obscure Civil War songs as 
they were sung by the Galesburg High School choir. It was an interesting 
session, indeed, with Sandburg's contribution being a mild castigation of the 
people of Galesburg for having "discriminated" against the Sandburg family in 
his youth. 

Sandburg was very likely overstating the case for, after all, he had 
attended Lombard College in that city, and the area itself was heavily 
populated with families of Swedish origins. Even so, the audience did not get 
the message. It wasn't the song they wished to hear, it was only the singer. 



' "The Verger" can be found in W. Somerset Maugham's Complete Short Stories, II 
(New York: Doubleday, 1952). 

^ See Cari Sandburg: A Pictorial Biography, by Joseph Haas and Gene Lovitz (New 
York: Putnam's, 1%7), p. 108. 

^ Ibid. Although Sandburg did his writing in Elmhurst, Illinois, he was still a part of that 
"left bank" literary and cultural ferment which existed in Chicago in the 1920*s. It is strange 
to think that at the same time that Al Capone was the virtual boss of Chicago, such people as 
Ben Hecht, Edna Ferber, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Jane Addams, Frank 
Lloyd Wright, and Lloyd Lewis were keeping an intellectual pot boiling in the Windy City. 



^ The Letters of Carl Sandburg, ed. Herbert Mitgang (New York: Harcourt, 1%8), 
pp. 255-56. 

Haas and Lovitz, p. 108. See also "Forty Years of Friendship" by Alfred Harcourt, in A 
Tribute to Carl Sandburg at Seventy-Five, ed. Harry Pratt (Chicago: Abraham Lincoln Book 
Shop, 1953). 


This section still remains in the paperback volumes: Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie 
Years and the War Years, I (New York: Dell, 1960), p. 105. 
° Haas and Lovitz, p. 113. 



'" Richard Crowder, Carl Sandburg (New York: Twayne, 1964), p. 97. 

^^ Harry Golden, Cari Sandburg (Cleveland: World, 1961), pp. 258-59. 

Alfred Haworth Jones deals with this in his Roosevelt's Image Brokers: Poets, 
Playwrights, and the Use of the Lincoln Symbol (Port Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat Press, 
1974), pp. 51-63, 112-18. 

'^ Ibid., p. 36. 

^^ New York Times, 30 Oct. 1938, Sec. 9, p. 3. 

^^ Ibid., 11 Dec. 1938, Sec. 10, p. 5. 

^" As quoted by Jones, p. 43. 

^"^ Ibid., pp. 65-66. 

1 o 

^° A marvelous discussion of this can be found in Roy P. Basler, A Touchstone for 
Greatness: Essays, Addresses, and Occasional Pieces about Abraham Lincoln (Westport, 
Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973), pp. 3-55. The standard work on Hemdon is David Donald's 
Lincoln's Hemdon (New York: Knopf, 1948). 

See Basler, pp. 11-33. 


Ruth Painter Randall was the wife of Professor James G. Randall. 


The story about Petersburg was told to me by James Hickey, the Curator of the 

Lincoln Collection of the Illinois Historical Library. 


^^ A curious characteristic of the Lincoln "clan" of writers during the 1930's and 1940's 

was the marvelous comaraderie which existed within the group. Most of them, including 

Sandburg, were fairly good drinkers, and once in their cups would divulge aspects about 

Lincoln rarely to be found in print. Most of the Lincoln scholars present at the 1950 galas 

have passed away. 

^^ F. H. Meserve, "Thoughts on a Friend," in A Tribute to Carl Sandburg, p. 337. 

^^ "Friends on the Post Dispatch," in A Tribute to CaH Sandburg, p. 360. Dilliard is still 
alive, but retired, and is presently known for his splendid research upon the Supreme Court. 

Criticism from 1950-1975 


Although no full-length or descriptive bibliographies or even extensive 
checklists of criticism exist for Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, arid Carl 
Sandburg, it does not mean that a researcher cannot find out what has been 
written about them. It would of course be convenient to have these books and 
articles all listed in one place — and if interest in them continues this may one 
day be the case — but at the moment one must dig through such bibliographies 
as the annual PMLA and MHRA lists, the various H. W. Wilson guides, the 
Spiller, et al. Literary History of the United States (New York: Macmillan, 
1963), Lewis heary's Articles on American Literature 1950-1967 (Durham, N. 
C: Duke Univ. Press, 1970), and Allen T£.te's Sixty American Poets 1896- 
19-1^4, rev. ed. (Washington, D. C: Library of Congress, 1954). 

Of the three poets, Fred B. Millett's Contemporary American Authors 
(New York: Harcourt, 1940) treats all of them, yet this book is 35 years old; 
Elizabeth Lindsay's Inventory of the Lindsayana Collection in Springfield, 
niinois [at The Lincoln Library] (Hartford, Conn., 1949) is also out of date, and 
Ann Massa's Vachel Lindsay: Fieldworker for the American Dream 
(Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1970) has only a selective bibliography, so 
my own list, "Vachel Lindsay-iana: A Bibliographical Note," The Serif, 8 (June 
1971), 9-11, is the most helpful of all, although the periodical— no longer 
published— may be hard to find. For Masters, Frank Kee Robinson's work (see 
items below for 1968, 1969, and 1970) is by far the best bibliographically, 
although the most recent is found in the bibliographical references in notes to 
John T. Flanagan's Edgar Lee Masters: The Spoon River Poet and His Critics 
(Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow, 1974). Finally, for Sandburg, R. G. Newman has 
a selective checklist in the special issue of the Journal of the Illinois State 
Historical Society, 45 (1952), 402-06; The Sandburg Range (Urbana: Univ. of 
Illinois Press, 1958) details an exhibit from his library displayed at the 
University of Illinois Library on 6 January 1958; and best of all is in Mark Van 
Doren's Carl Sandburg (Washington, D. C: GPO, 1969), which lists editions, 
translations, addresses, introductions, prefaces, articles, interviews, conver- 
sations, MSS., musical settings, recordings, and movies in the Library of 
Congress collections. 

For the benefit of those who are working on Lindsay, Masters, and 
Sandburg I have compiled the following list, mainly of books and articles about 

- 114 - 

CRITICISM 1950-1975 115 

them, published during the past 25 years, from 1950 to 1975. Although I have 
tried to be as comprehensive and complete as possible, especially for the most 
easily available material, I have not dealt with translations, all reprintings, or 
the many reviews of books by or about the three poets. It is what I might 
describe as a "working" bibliography, arranged under each poet's name by 
years, so that one can see what was published about the man in any particular 
year. Obviously, the amount of research and writing on Lindsay, Masters, and 
Sandburg has not been overwhelming — nothing like it has been on Henry 
James, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, or Ernest Hemingway, for example — 
but it has been fairly steady, and the three authors are not forgotten men in 
American letters. 



Duffey, Bernard. The Chicago Renaissance in American Letters: A Critical History. East 
Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1954. 285 pp. 


Havighurst. Walter. "The Prairie Poets." In his The Heartland: Ohio. Indiana. Illinois. 
1956; rpt. New York: Harper, 1974, pp. 307-24. 


Yatron. Michael. "The Influence of Populism on Edgar Lee Masters. Vachel Lindsay, and 
Carl Sandburg." Diss. Temple. 1957. 


Duffey, Bernard I. " Progressivism and Personal Revolt." The Centennial Review, 
2 (Spring 1958), 125-38. [Treats Masters and Sandburg.) 


Yatron, Michael. America's Literary Revolt. New York: Philosophical Library, 1959. 
176 pp. 


Duncan, Hugh Dalziel. The Rise of Chicago as a Literary Center from 1885 to 1930. 
Totowa, N. J.: Bedminster, 1964. 181 pp. 


Kramer, Dale. Chicago Renaissance: The Literary Life in the Midwest 1900-1930. 
New York: Appleton-Century, 1966. 369 pp. 


Sorensen. Poul. "To amerikanske proslyrikere." In Sorn F. Kristensen, ed., Fremmede 
digtere i det 20. arhundrede. Copenhagen: G.E.C. Gad, 1967, pp. 425-38. 
[Treats Masters and Sandburg.] 



Ford, Thomas W. "The American Rhythm: Mary Austin's Poetic Principle." Western 
American Litertture, 5 (1970), 3-14. [Compares American Indian songs with 
Lindsay and Sandburg.] 


Flanagan, John T. "Three Illinois Poets." The Centennial Review, 16 (1972), 313-27. 

Gazell, James Albert. "The High Noon of Chicago's Bohemias." Journal of the Illinois 
State Historical Society. 65 (1972), 54-68. 


Hallwas, John E., ed. The Western Illinois Poets: The Early Poetry of Vachel Lindsay, 
Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg. Humanities Monograph Series, No. 3. 
Macomb: Western Illinois Univ., 1975. 55 pp. 

VACHEL LINDSAY (1879- 1931) 


Hicks, Granville. "The Puzzle of a Preaching Poet." Saturday Review, 21 Nov. 1950, 
p. 39. 


Enkvist, N. E. "The Folk Elements in Vachel Lindsay's Poetry." English Studies, 
32 (1951), 241-49. 

Scouffas, George. "Vachel Lindsay: A Study in Retreat and Repudiation." Diss. Illinois, 


Harris, Mark. City of Discontent: An Interpretative Biography of Vachel Lindsay, 
Being Also the Story of Springfield, Illinois, USA, and of the Love of the Poet 
for That City, That State, and That Nation. Indianapolis: Bobbs- Merrill, 1952. 
403 pp. 

Kuydendall, Radford B. "The Reading and Speaking of Vachel Lindsay." Diss. 
Northwestern, 1952. 

Wells, H. W. "An American Tragedy: Vachel Lindsay." Voices, No. 149 (Sept. -Dec. 
1952), pp. 43-46. 

"Vachel Lindsay on Film." Image, 11 (April 1953), 23. 

Lokensgard, H. O. "Letters to the Editor." College English, 15 (1954), 415-16. 

Carmer, Carl. "Three Aprils and a Poet." Atlantic, April 1956, pp. 69-71. 

CRITICISM 1950-1975 117 


Avery, Emmett L. "Vachel Lindsay: Spokane Journalist." Research Studies (Washington 
State Univ.), 25 (1957), 101-10. 


Kreymborg, Alfred. "Exit Vachel Lindsay — Enter Ernest Hemingway." Literary Review, 
1 (Winter 1957-58), 208-19. 

Orel, Harold. "Lindsay and the Blood of the Lamb." University of Kansas City Review, 
25 (Oct. 1958), 13-17. 


Ruggles, Eleanor. The West-Going Heart: A Life of Vachel Lindsay. New York: 
Norton, 1959. 448 pp. 


Byrd, Cecil K. "Checklist of the Melcher Lindsay Collection." Indiana University 
Bookman, No. 5 (Dec. 1960), pp. 64-106. 

Cady, Edwin H. "Vachel Lindsay Across the Chasm." Indiana University Bookman, 
■ No. 5 (Dec. 1960), pp. 5-11. 

Melcher, Frederic G. "Vachel Lindsay: An Account of a Friendship Recorded from 
Memory, August, 1957." Indiana University Bookman, No. 5 (Dec. 1960), pp. 12-20. 

Reed, Doris M. "Letters of Vachel Lindsay in the Lilly Library at Indiana University." 
Indiana University Bookman, No. 5 (Dec. 1960), pp. 21-63. 

Viereck, Peter. "The Crack-Up of American Optimism: Vachel Lindsay, the Dante of the 
Fundamentalists." Modem Age, 4 (1960), 269-84. 


Loos, Anita. "Vachel, Mae, and I." Saturday Review, 26 Aug. 1961, pp. 5-6. 

Tanselle, G. Thomas. "Lindsay's General William Booth: A Bibliographical and 
Textual Note." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 55 (1961), 371-80. 


Avery, Emmett L. "Vachel Lindsay's 'Poem Games' in Spokane." Research Studies 
(Washington State Univ.), 30 (1962), 109-14. 

Mayfield, John S., ed. " 'Vachel Lindsay: The True Voice of Middle America,' by 
H. L. Mencken." Courier (Syracuse), 2 (1962), 13-16. 

Trombly, Albert Edmund. "Listeners and Readers: The Unforgetting of Vachel Lindsay." 
Southwest Review, 47 (1962), 294-302. 


Harris, Mark, ed. Selected Poems of Vachel Lindsay. New York: Macmillan, 1963. 
"Introduction," pp. vii-xxii. 

Jarrell, Randall. "Fifty Years of American Poetry." Prairie Schooner, 37 (1963), 1-27. 

Putzel, Max. "Vachel Lindsay, Poet on Native Ground." In his The Man in the Mirror: 
William Marion Reedy and His Magazine. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1963, 
pp. 177-92. 


Whipple, Thomas K. "Vachel Lindsay." In his Spokesmen. New York, 1928; rpt. 
Berkeley: Univ. of California Press. 1963, pp. 184-207. 


Tanselle, G. Thomas. "Vachel Lindsay Writes to Floyd Dell." Journal of the Illinois 
State Historical Society, 57 (1964), 366-79. 


Viereck, Peter. "Vachel Lindsay, the Dante of the Fundamentalists: The Suicide of 
America's Faith in Technology." In Vittorio Gabrieli, ed., Friendship's Garland: 
Essays Presented to Mario Praz on His Seventieth Birthday. Rome: Edizione di Storia 
e Lctteratura, 1966. II, 207-32. 


Flanagan, John T. "Vachel Lindsay: An Appraisal." In Clarence Gohdes, ed., Essays on 
American Literature in Honor of Jay B. Hubbell. Durham, N. C: Duke Univ, Press, 
1%7, pp. 273-81. 

Marberry, M. M. "Vachel Lindsay's Lost Weekend in Urbana." Horizon, 9 (1967), 112-15. 

Rainey, Peter Michael. "Vachel Lindsay and The Village Magazine." Dartmouth College 
Library Bulletin, 8 (Nov. 1967), 22-29. 


Ames, Van Meter. "Vachel Lindsay — or. My Heart Is a Kicking Horse." Midway, 8 
(1%8), 63-79. 

Fowler, Elizabeth Thomas. "Annotated Edition of the Letters of Vachel Lindsay to 

Nellie Vieira." Diss. Tennessee, 1%8. 

Gilliland, Marshall Allan. "Vachel Lindsay: Poet and Newspaper Columnist in Spokane, 
1924-1929." Diss. Washington State, 1968. 

Hicks, Granville, "Literary Horizons." Saturday Review, 7 Dec. 1968, p. 41. [Review- 
article of the book below.] 

Lindsay, Vachel. Adventures, Rhymes & Designs: Including the Prose Volume 'Adventures 
While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty, ' Together with Rhymes to Be Traded for 
Bread. ' The Village Improvement Parade' and Selections from The Village Magazine. ' 
With an Essay by Robert F. Sayre. New York: Eakins, 1968. 

Massa, Ann. "The Artistic Conscience of Vachel Lindsay." Journal of American 
Studies, 2 (1968). 239-52. 


Bonner, Nellie J. " 'OK'— Vachel Lindsay." English Journal, 58 (1%9), 1338-40. 

Lindsay, Vachel. Springfield Town is Butterfly Town. Introduction by Pierre Dussert. 
Preface by Louis Untermeyer. Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1%9. 

Purkey, Raymond. Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931). Paris: Nizet, 1%9. 16 pp. 


Bradbury, David L. "Vachel Lindsay and His Heroes." lUinois State University Journal, 

32 (Nov. 1970), 22-57. 

CRITICISM 1950-1975 119 

Flanagan, John T., ed. Profile of Vachel Lindsay. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1970. 
vi, 122 pp. 

Lindsay, Vachel. The Art of the Moving Picture. Introduction by Stanley Kauffmann. 
2nd ed. rev., 1922; rpt. New York: Liveright, 1970. xxv, 324 pp. 

Massa, Ann. Vachel Lindsay: Fieldworker for the American Dream. Bloomington: 
Indiana Univ. Press, 1970. x, 310 pp. 


White, William. "Vachel Lindsay-iana: A Bibliographical Note." The Serif, 8 (June 1971), 


Whitney, Blair. " 'Shoes of Song and Wings of Rhyme': Vachel Lindsay's Poetry for 
Children." In Francelia Butler, ed., Children's Literature: The Great Excluded. 
Storrs, Conn.: Children's Literature Association, 1973, pp. 142-47. 

Wolfe, Glenn Joseph. Vachel Lindsay: The Poet as Film Theorist. New York: Arno, 1973. 
191 pp. [State University of Iowa thesis, 1964.] 


Whitney, Blair. "Vachel Lindsay: The Midwest as Utopia." MidAmerica I (1974), pp. 


Chenetier, Marc. "Knights in Disguise: Lindsay and Maiakovski as Poets of the People." 
MidAmerica II (1975). pp. 47-62. 



Flanagan, John T. "The Novels of Edgar Lee Masters." South Atlantic Quarterly, 
49(1950), 82-95. 

Masters, Ellen Coyne. "Those People of Spoon River." New York Times Book Review, 
12 Feb. 1950, pp. 5, 25. 

Stefanile, Mario. "Murore con I'anima sulle labbra I'Apollo die grattacielle." La Fiera 
Letteraria, No. 32 (6 Aug. 1950), p. 3. 


Phillips, William L. "How Sherwood Anderson Wrote Winesburg, Ohio." American 
Literature, 23 (1951), 7-30. [Documents the influence of Spoon River on Anderson.] 

Zanetti, Emilia. "Ingresso alia scala della poesia modema: i morti di Spoon River nella 
musica di Peragallo." La Fiera Letteraria, No. 21 (27 May 1951), pp. 1-2. 


Claytor, Gertrude. "Edgar Lee Masters in the Chelsea Years." Princeton University 
Library Chronicle, 14 (Autumn 1952), 1-29. 


Flaccus, William K. "Edgar Lee Masters: A Biographical and Critical Study." 
Diss. New York, 1952. 


Flanagan, John T. "The Spoon River Poet." Southwest Review, 38 (1953), 226-37. 


Flaccus. Kimball. "The Vermont Background of Edgar Lee Masters." Vermont History, 
22 (1954), 3-9, 92-98. 146-49, 254-63; 23 (1955), 16-24. 

Farrell, James T. "Edgar Lee Masters at the Hotel Chelsea." Chicago, 2 (1955), 57-59. 


Galdenzi, Mirella. "Polemica e pessimismo nella Spoon River Anthology." Aspetti 
Letterari, 16(1956), 52-54. 


Combecher, Hans. "Vom erzieherischen Wert amerikanischer Dichtung, dargestellt an 
zwei Gedichten von Edgar Lee Masters." Die Neueren Sprachen, 6 (1957), 332-35. 


McElderry, Bruce R. et al. "The Changing Role of the Middle West." The Centennial 
Review, 2 (1958). 109-50. 


De Jouvenal, Bertrand. "Edgar Lee Masters." Europe, Nos. 358-59 (Feb. -Mar. 1959), 
pp. 105-08. 

Derleth. August. "Masters and the Revolt from the Village." Colorado Quarterly, 
8(1959), 164-67. 

Derleth, August. "Three Literary Men: A Memoir of Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, 
and Edgar Lee Masters." Arts in Society, 14 (1959), 11-46. [See 1963, below.] 


Putzel, Max. "Masters's 'Maltravers': Ernest McGaffey." American Literature, 31 (1960), 



Hartley, Lois. "Edgar Lee Masters — Biographer and Historian." Journal of the Illinois 
State Historical Society, 54 (1961), 56-83. 

Narveson, Robert D. "The Two Lincolns of Edgar Lee Masters." Discourse, 4 (1961), 


Hertz, Robert H. "Two Voices of the American Village: Robinson and Masters." 
Minnesota Review, 2 (1962), 345-58. 

Masters, Edgar Lee. Spoon River Anthology. With a new Introduction by May Swenson. 

New York: Collier, 1962. 318 pp. 

CRITICISM 1950-1975 121 


Derleth, August. Three Literary Men: A Memoir of Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, 
Edgar Lee Masters. New York: Candlelight, 1963. 56 pp. [See 1959, above.) 

Hartley, Lois T. Spoon River Revisited. Ball State Monographs, No. 1. Muncie, Ind.: 
Ball State Teachers College, [1963]. 30 pp. 

Putzel, Max. "Crossing Spoon River." In his The Man in the Mirror: William Marion 
Reedy and His Magazine . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1963, pp. 193-216. 

Thomas, Dylan. "Dylan Thomas on Edgar Lee Masters." Harper's Bazaar, June 1963, 
pp. 68-69, 115. 


Hartley, Lois T. "Edgar Lee Masters — Political Essayist." Journal of the Illinois State 
Historical Society, 57 (1964), 249-60. 

Weeg, Mary Margaret. "The Prose of Edgar Lee Masters, Its Revelation of His Views 
and Its Significance in His Canon." Diss. Indiana, 1964. 


Lohf, Kenneth A. "Spoon River and After." Columbia Library Columns, 14 (Feb. 1965), 

Masters, Marcia Lee. Intent on Earth. New York: Candlelight, 1965. 77 pp. [Poems 
by Masters' daughter, many describing her father and the family prior to her 
parents' separation.] 


Aidman, Charles. Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. Conceived, adapted, and 
arranged by Charles Aidman. New York: Samuel French, 1966. 59 pp. 

Gerber, Philip L. " 'My Rising Contemptuaries': Robert Frost Amid His Peers." 

Western Humanities Review, 20 (1966), 135-41. 

Hartley, Lois T. "The Early Plays of Edgar Lee Masters." Ball State University Forum, 
7 (1966). 26-38. 

Hartley, Lois T. "Edgar Lee Masters and the Chinese." Literature East and West, 10 
(1966), 302-05. 

Kuehnelt, Harro H. "Maxmilian: Ein Drama von Edgar Lee Masters." In Osmund Menghin 
and Hermann M. Oeiberg, eds., Festschrift: Leonhard C. Franz zum 70. Geburtstag. 
Innsbrucker Beitrage zur Kulturwissenschaft, 11. Innsbruck: Sprachwissenschaftliche 
Inst, der Leopold- Franzens Universitaet, 1966, pp. 245-60. 

Liljegren, S. B. " 'Pere Lachaise' and 'Spoon River': Some Notes on the Dependence 
or Independence of Literary Motifs in Their Interrelation with Society." In Gerhard 
Muller-Schwefe and Konrad Tuzinski, eds., Literatur-Kultur-Gesellschaft in England 
und Amerika: Aspeckte und Forschungs beitrage: Friedrich Schubel zum 60. 
Geburtstag. Frankfurt: Diesterweg, 1966, pp. 201-08. 

Masters. Hardin W., and Billie McCants. "Notes for a Biography of Edgar Lee Masters." 
Nimrod, 10(1966), 26-29. 

Meller, Horst. "Zum literarischen Hintergrund von Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood." 
Neuphilologische Mitteilungen , 15 (1966), 49-58. [Spoon River Anthology was one 
of Under Milk Wood's three literary fathers.] 


Sertoli, Giuseppi. "La piccola Commedia di Spoon River." Studi Americani, 12 (1966), 


Earnest, Ernest. "Spoon River Revisited." Western Humanities Review, 21 (1967), 


Crawford, John W. "Naturalistic Tendencies in Spoon River Anthology." The CEA Critic. 
30 (June 1968), 6-8. 

Earnest, Ernest. "A One-Eyed View of Spoon River." The CEA Critic. 31 (Nov. 1968), 

Masters, Edgar Lee. The New Spoon River. Introduction by Willis Barnstone. New 
York: Macmillan, 1968. xxvi, 325 pp. 

Popescu, Petru. "Edgar Lee Masters: Autori unei singure carti, ' Romania Literara. 
26 (Dec. 1968), 19. 

Robinson. Frank Kee. "The Edgar Lee Masters Collection: Sixty Years of Literary 
History." Library Chronicle of the University of Texas, 8 (1968), 42-50. 


Burgess, Charles E. "An Unpublished Poem by Edgar Lee Masters." Papers on Language 
& Literature. 5 (1969), 183-89. ["The Pasture Rose."] 

Crawford. John W. "A Defense of 'A One-Eyed View.' " The CEA Critic. 31 (Feb. 
1969). 14-15. 

Depler, John. "Spoon River and Edgar Lee Masters." Outdoor Illinois, 1 (1969), 

Hahn, Henry. "Evolution in the Graveyard." Midwest Quarterly, 10 (1969). 275-90. 

Marino, Adrian. "Regenerarea epigramei." Cronica, No. 10 (March 1969), p. 9. 

Robinson, Frank Kee. "Edgar Lee Masters Centenary Exhibition: Catalogue and 
Checklist." Texas Quarterly, 12 (1969) 4-69. 

Robinson, Frank Kee. "The Edgar Lee Masters Collection at the University of Texas at 
Austin: A Critical. Bibliographical and Textual Study." Diss. Texas at Austin, 1969. 

Robinson, Frank Kee, ed. "Posthumous Poems of Edgar Lee Masters." Texas Quarterly, 
12 (1969). 70-115. 

Robinson, Frank Kee, ed. "The New Spoon River: Fifteen Facsimile Pages." Texas 
Quarterly, 12 (1969), 116-43. 

Tetlow, Joseph Allen, Jr. "The Intellectual and Spiritual Odyssey of Edgar Lee Masters, 
1868-1950." Diss. Brown, 1969. 


Pavese, Cesare. "The Spoon River Anthology" and "The Dead at Spoon River." In his 
American Literature: Essays and Opinions, trans, by Edwin Fussell. Berkeley: Univ. 
of California Press, 1970, pp. 42-54, 168-76. [Originally published in La Cultura, 
Nov. 1931, and II Saggiatore, 10 Aug. 1943. [See also "The Great American Anguish," 
pp. 200-02, trans, from LUnita (Turin), 12 March 1950.] 

CRITICISM 1950-1975 123 


Burgess, Charles E. "Masters and Whitman: A Second Look." Walt Whitman Review, 
17 (March 1971), 25-27. 

Laning, Edward. "Spoon River Revisited." American Heritage, 22, No. 4 (1971), 
14-17, 104-07. 

Nemoianu, Virgil. "Masters, efemer si durabil." In his Calmul valorilor. Cluj: Dacia, 
1971, pp. 192-98. 

Schoolfield, George C. "Elmer Dictonius and Edgar Lee Masters." Americana-Norvegica 
(Oslo), 3 (1971). 307-27. 


Baconsky, A. E. "Edgar Lee Masters." In his Panorama poeziei universale contemporane. 
Bucharest: Albatros, 1972, pp. 517-20. 

Masters, Hardin W. Edgar Lee Masters: A Centenary Memoir-Anthology. South 
Brunswick, N. J.: Barnes for the Poetry Society of America, 1972. 62 pp. 


Robinson, Frank Kee. " 'From Mary Austin to Edgar Lee Masters': A Book In- 
scription." Library Chronicle of the University of Texas. 6 (1973), 82-85. 

Russell, Herb. "Masters' 'Alfred Moir.' " The Explicator, 31 (1973), Item 54. 


Burgess, Charles E. "Masters and Some Mentors." Papers on Language & Literature. 
10(1974), 175-201. 

Campbell, Bruce Gordon, "lllocutionary Acts in Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River 
Anthology." Diss. Rochester. 1974. 

Flanagan, John T. Edgar Lee Masters: The Spoon River Poet and His Critics. Metuchen, 
N. J.: Scarecrow, 1974. viii, 175 pp. 

Jimenez Martos, Luis. "Un dramatico pueblo de difuntos." Estafeta Literaria, 15 July 1974, 
pp. 1782-83. [Spoon River was inspired by the Greek Anthology, 1 B.C.] 


Bramer, Mary. "With Thanks to Edgar Lee Masters." English Journal, 64 (Sept. 1975). 

Primeau, Ronald. "Shelley and Edgar Lee Masters' 'Amphimixis.' " The Old Northwest, 

1 (1975), 141-57. 

CARL SANDBURG ( 1878- 1 967) 

Cargill, Oscar. "Carl Sandburg: Crusader and Mystic." English Journal, 39 (April 
1950), 177-84. 

Hoffman, Daniel G. "Sandburg and 'The People': His Literary Populism Reappraised." 
Antioch Review, 10 (1950), 265-78. 

Jenkins, Alan. "Portrait of a Poet at College." South Atlantic Quarterly, 49 (1950), 

Johnson, E. Gustave. "Religion in the Poetry of Sandburg." Prairie Schooner, 24 (1950), 


Sandburg. Carl. "Sandburg's Words at New Salem." Journal of the Illinois State 
Historical Society. 17 (Spring 1950), 7-14. 

Sandburg, Carl. "Trying to Write." Atlantic Monthly. Sept. 1950, 31-33. 


Hoffman, Daniel G. "Sandburg's 'Cool Tombs.' " The Explicator, 9 (1951). Item 46. 

Rodman. Selden. 'La storia, un secchio peino di centere: Carl Sandburg il poeta 
del paradosso americana." La Fiera Letteraria. 7 Jan. 1951. p. 3. 

Rubin, Louis D., Jr. "Chicago Revisited." Hopkins Review. 4 (Winter 1951), 63-69. 

Williams, William Carlos. "Carl Sandburg's 'Complete Poems.' " Poetry, 78 (1951). 


Pratt, Harry Edwards, ed. Carl Sandburg Issue, Journal of the Illinois State 
Historical Society. 45 (1952). 295-416. (A tribute to Carl Sandburg at 75, also 
published as a book by the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Chicago, 1953, with articles 
by Frederick Babcock, Fanny Butcher, Irving Dilliard, D. V. Felts, R. J. Finnegan. 
Adda George, Elmer Gertz. Harry Hansen, Alfred Harcourt, Carl Haverlin, Alan 
Jenkins, Paul Jordan-Smith, F. H. Meserve, Allan Nevins, R. G. Newman, Harry 
Edward Pratt. J. G. Randall, Robert E. Sherwood, T. I. Starr, Adiai E. Stevenson, 
B. P. Thomas. C. E. Van Norman, Bruce Weirick, and Quincy Wright.) 


Conrad, W. C. "Carl Sandburg's Milwaukee Days." Historical Messenger. 9 (June 
1953). 6-10. 

Heinberg, Aage. "Carl Sandburg — diktare och lantbrukare." Samtid och Framtid 
(Stockholm). 10(1953). 21-23. 

Jenkins, Alan. "Sandburg's Private Printings." Journal of the Illinois State Historical 
Society, 46(1953). 401-06. 

Sandburg, Carl. "Old Wade House Has Its Memories." Wisconsin History, 37 (Winter 

1953-54), 67-70. 

Stroud, Perry Edmund. "Sandburg the Young Stranger." Prairie Schooner, 27 (1953). 


Krim. Seymour. "Voice of America." The Commonweal, 17 June 1955. pp. 283-84. 


Stroud, Parry Edmund. "Carl Sandburg: A Biographical and Critical Study of His Major 
Works." Diss. Northwestern, 1956. 


Maurin. Mario. "Carl Sandburg y el mito de America." Caudernos del Congreso por 
la liberdad de la cultura. No. 26 (1957), pp. 35-40. 


Breit. Harvey. "Sandburg at 80: To Life Itself, Yes." The New York Times Magazine 
Section, 5 Jan. 1958, p. 14. 

CRITICISM 1950-1975 125 

Flanagan, John T. "Carl Sandburg at Eighty." Journal of the Illinois State Historical 
Society, 51 (1958). 191-98. 

Rexroth, Kenneth. "Searching for Sandburg." The Nation, 22 Feb. 1958, pp. 171-72. 

Sandburg, Helga. "Life with Father and Our Books." Saturday Review, 29 Nov. 1958, 
pp. 10-13. 

The Sandburg Range: An Exhibit of Materials from Carl Sandburg's Library Placed on 
Display in the University of Illinois Library on January 6, 1958. Introduction by 
John T. Flanagan. Notes by Leslie W. Dunlap. Ada Patton Memorial Fund Publication, 
No. 6. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Library, 1958. 47 pp. 


De Jouvenai, Bertrand. "Carl Sandburg." Europe, No. 358 (Feb. -March 1959), pp. 70-78. 

De Poli, Franco. "Gente d' America." H Ponte, 15 (1959), 965-72. 

Kolbe, Henry E. "Christ and Carl Sandburg." Religion in Life, 28 (1959), 248-61. 

Yatron, Michael. "Carl Sandburg: The Poet as Nonconformist." English Journal, 48 
(1959), 524-27, 539. 


Allen, Gay Wilson. "Carl Sandburg: Fire and Smoke." South Atlantic Quarterly, 59 (1960), 

Combecher, Hans. "Bemerkungen u id Interpretationsvorschlaege zur Behandlung der 
War Poetry." Die Neueren Sprach^n, 9 (Jan. 1960), 24-38. 

Sandburg, Carl. "A Visit with Carl Liandburg." Claremont Quarterly, 8, No. 2 (1960), 


Van Doren, Mark, ed. Harvest Poems. 1 910-1 960. With Introduction. New York: 
Harcourt, 1960. 127 pp. 


Corwin, Norman. The World of Carl Sandburg: A Stage Presentation. New York: 
Harcourt, 1961. xiii, 113 pp. 

Cremaschi, Inisero. "Chicago di Sandburg." La Fiera Letteraria, 9 July 1961, p. 5. 

Golden, Harry. Carl Sandburg. Cleveland: World, 1961. 287 pp. 

Harris, Mark. "The Pride and Wisdom of Two Great Old Poets: Sandburg and Frost." 
Life, 1 Dec. 1961, pp. 101-23. 

Jenkins, Alan. "Portraits of Carl Sandburg." i/nco/« Herald, 63 (Summer 1961), 77-84. 

Lawson, E. B. "Carl Sandburg: Notes from a Friendship." Swedish Pioneer History 
Quarterly, 12 (July 1961), 89-99. 


Garland, H. B. "Carl Sandburg, poeta del pueblo norteamericano." Salon, 13, No. 3 
(1962), 17-23. 

Whitridge, Arnold. "Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg: The Two Elder Statesmen of 
American Poetry." Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 66 (1962), 164-77. 



Flanagan. John T. "Presentation Copies in the Sandburg Librar>." College and Research 
Libraries, 24(1963). 47-52. 

Green. Jerome. "Carl Sandburg as Poet: A Study of the Criticism and Other Factors 
Contributing to His Reputation as a Poet through 1960. ' Diss. New York. 1963. 

Nitta. Hiroaki. "Carl Sandburg as a Poet tor Children." Kobe Gaidai Ronso. 13 
(Feb. 1963). 52-64. 


Crowder, Richard. Carl Sandburg. Twayne United States Authors Series. No. 47. 
New York: Twayne, 1964. 176 pp. 


Dumell, Hazel B. The America of Carl Sandburg' With a Foreword by Gordden Link. 
Washington: Univ. Press of Washington, D.C., 1965. xx, 253 pp. [Revised thesis. 
University of Geneva.] 

Sorenson, Somner. "Poets Old and New: Reviews of Ammons and Sandburg." Discourse. 
8(1965), 138-52. 


Borough, Reuben W. "The Sandburg I Remember." Journal of the Illinois State 
Historical Society. 59 (1966). 229-51. 

Jenkins, Alan. "Anecdotes About Carl Sandburg." Lincoln Herald. 68 (Winter 1966). 

Mitgang, Herbert. "Carl Sandburg." The New York Times Book Review. 2 Jan. 1966, 

pp. 2. 24-25. 

Steichen, Edward. Sandburg: Photographers View Carl Sandburg. New York: Harcourt, 
1966. 112 pp. 

Wrede. Johan. " 'Det nya havet': En havssymbol, morne och modernism." Finsk- 
Tidskrift. 179-80(1966). 354-66. 


Anderson, James Bruce. "Frost and Sandburg: A Theological Criticism." Renascence, 
19(1967), 171-83. 

Cioculescu, Serban. "Carl Sandburg: Breviar." Gazeta literara, 17 Aug. 1967, p. 3. 

Haas. Joseph, and Gene Lovitz. Carl Sandburg A Pictorial Biugraphy. New York; 
Putnam's, 1967. 222 pp. 

Mitgang. Herbert. "Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967." Saturday Review, 12 Aug. 1967, 
pp. 18-19. 

Popuscu. Petru. Rev. of Omul din Chicago. Gazeta literara, 3 Aug. 1967, p. 8. 

Vance. Eleanor Graham. "Glimpses of Carl Sardburg." North American Review, 252 
(March 1967). 9-10. 


Aderman, Ralph M. "Carl Sandburg, trubadur al Americii." Luceafarul (Bucharest). 
24 (Feb. 1968), 6. 

CRITICISM 1950-1975 127 

Broderick, John C. et al. "Recent Acquisitions of the Manuscript Division [of the Library 
of Congress]." Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, 25 (1968), 328-49. 
[Includes papers of Carl Sandburg.] 

Krusp, Horst. "Krieg, Mensch und Natur in Carl Sandburgs 'Grass' und Hinrich Kruses 
'Gras'; Ein Vergleich." Literatur in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, 1 (1968), 98-107. 

Lynn, Kenneth S. "A Correspondence with Friends." Virginia Quarterly Review, 44 
(1968). 682-84. 

MacLeish, Archibald. "A Memorial Tribute to Carl Sandburg." Massachusetts Review, 
9 (1968). 41-44. 

Martynova, Anna. "Carl Sandburg and the Soviet Reader (On the Occasion of the 90th 
Anniversary of Sandburg's Birth)." Soviet Literature, 1 (1968), 192-93. 

Mitgang, Herbert, ed. The Letters of Carl Sandburg. With Introduction. New York: 
Harcourt, 1968. xiv, 577 pp. 

Nandakumar, Prema. "Carl Sandburg: An Appreciation." Aryan Path (Bombay), 39 
(1968), 317-22. 

Nevins, Allan. "A Tribute to Carl Sandburg." Lincoln Herald, 70 (Spring 1968). 8. 
[A Carl Sandburg number of the Lincoln Herald, with articles by Norman Corwin, 
Thomas Honsby Ferril. Arnold Gates, Richard Paul Graebel, Harry Hansen, Alan 
Jenkins, Otto Kemer, Catherine McCarthy, Herbert Mitgang, Ralph G. Newman, 
Ruth Painter Randall, Don Shoemaker, Edward Steichen, Jesse Stuart, Wayne C. 
Temple, and George C. B. Tolleson.] 

Sutton. William A. "Personal Liberty Across Wide Horizons: Sandburg and the Negro." 
Negro American Literature Forum. 2 (Summer 1968), 19-21. 

Weigel, John C. Letter to Carl Sandburg After Reading His Autobiography. 'Always the 
Young Strangers. " Published on His 75th Birthday. January 6. 1953. New York: 
Schaffner, 1968. 43 pp. 


Basler. Roy P. "Your Friend the Poet: Carl Sandburg." Midway. 10, No. 2 (1969), 3-15. 

Joyner, Nancy. "Robinson's 'Pamela' and Sandburg's 'Agatha.' " American Literature, 
40(1969), 548-49. 

Mearns. David C. " 'Ever and Ever, Carl.' " MSS. 21 (1969), 169-73. 

Mitgang. Herbert. "A Life in Letters." MSS. 21 (1969), 54-56. 

Monaghan, Jay. "The Carl Sandburg I Knew." Soundings: Collections of the University 
Library. University of California. Santa Barbara, 1, No. 1 (1969), 20-28. 

Sandburg, Carl. The Chicago Race Riots: July 1919. Preface by Ralph McGill. 
Introductory Note by Walter Lippmann. New York: Harcourt, 1969. [New edition 
with additional prefatory material.] 

Sutton, William. "On the Sandburg Trail." //Jt//a«a£'«f//s/i /owrwa/, 3 (Winter 1969). 8-11. 

Van Doren, Mark. Carl Sandburg. With a Bibliography of Sandburg Materials in the 
Collections of the Library of Congress. Washington: Published for the Library of 
Congress by the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund, 1969. 
vi, 83 pp. [Includes Archibald MacLeish, "Where a Poet's From," p. vi.] 



Callahan. North. Carl Sandburg: Lincoln of Our Literature. New York: New York Univ. 
Press. 1970. xv. 253 pp. 

Popescu, Petru. "Carl Sandburg: Povesti din tara Rutabaga." Romania Literara 
3 (Jan. 1970). 19. 

Quigley. Michael Jerome. "Study of Carl Sandburg: A Major Writer for the Secondary 
School of Today." Diss. Ohio State. 1970. 

Reed, Kenneth T. "Carl Sandburg and T. S. Eliot: Some Poetical Exchanges." 
Poet and Critic. 6 (Fall 1970), 45-46. 

Rothwell, Kenneth S. "In Search of a Western Epic: Neihardt, Sandburg, and Jaffe 
as Regionalists and 'Astoriadists.' " Kansas Quarterly, 2, No. 2 (1970), 53-63. 

Sutton. William A. "A Frost-Sandburg Rivalry?" Ball State University Forum, 11 
(Winter 1970), 59-61. 


Feeney, Joseph John. "American Anti-War Writers of World War I: A Literary Study of 
Randolph Bourne. Harriet Monroe, Carl Sandburg, John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, 
and Ernest Hemingway." Diss. Pennsylvania, 1971. 

Mieder, Wolfgang. "Behold the Proverbs of a People: A Florilegium of Proverbs in 
Carl Sandburg's Poem 'Good Morning, America.' " Southern Folklore Quarterly. 
35(1971), 160-68. 

Sutherland, Donald. "Alice, Gertrude and Others." Prairie Schooner, 45 (1971-72), 
284-99. [Carl Sandburg is one of the "others."] 


Allen, Gay Wilson. Carl Sandburg. University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American 
Writers, No. 101. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1972. 48 pp. 

Baconsky, A. E. "Carl Sandburg," see entry in Edgar Lee Masters, 1972, above, 
pp. 687-90. 

Korotyc, V. "Karl Sandburg: Ja narod. . . ." Zovtem, 23, No. 2 (1972), 4-11. 

Sutton, William A. "The Swedishness of Carl Sandburg." American-Scandinavian Review, 
60 (1972), 144-47. 


Alexander, William. "The Limited American, the Great Loneliness, and the Singing Fire: 
Carl Sandburg's 'Chicago Poems.' " American Literature, 45 (1973), 67-83. 

Canant, Ray Moschel. "A Catalogue of the Carl Sandburg Collection at the University 
of Texas at Austin, Texas." Diss. Texas at Austin, 1973. 

Chu, Jones C. Y. "Carl Sandburg: His Association with Henry Justin Smith." 
Journalism Quarterly, 50 (1973), 43-47, 133. 

Mieder, Wolfgang. "Proverbs in Carl Sandburg's Poem 'The People, Yes.' " Southern 
Folklore Quarterly, 37 (1973), 15-36. 


Ferlazzo, Paul J. "The Urban-Rural Vision of Carl Sandburg." MidAmerica I (1974), 
pp. 52-57. 

Notes On Contributors 

Charles E. Burgess, a reporter for the St. Louis Globe- Democrat, has been a newspaperman 
for many years. Along with an M.A. thesis on "The Use of Local Lore in Spoon River 
Anthology," he has written numerous articles on Edgar Lee Masters and other regional 
literary and historical figures. 

Marc Chenetier is afHiated with the Universite de Paris III — Sorbonne Nouvelle, where he 
co-edits the journal Trema and researches contemporary American literature. Among his 
publications are other studies on Vachel Lindsay. 

Richard Crowder, Professor of English at Purdue University, has long had an active interest 
in 20th-century American poetry, and from 1963-65 he was a Fulbright Lecturer in American 
poetry at the University of Bordeaux, France. In his lengthy list of published titles is the 
Twayne Series book Carl Sandburg (1964). 

Victor Hicken. Professor of History at Western Illinois University, is currently President of 
the Illinois Historical Society. His numerous publications include Illinois in the Civil War 
(1966), The American Fighting Man (1968), and The World is Coming to an End.' (1975). 

Charles W. Mayer is an Associate Professor at Western Illinois University where he teaches 
courses in American literature. He has forthcoming articles on Stephen Crane. E. W. Howe, 
and Henry James, and has recently completed a study of Kate Chopin. 

Dennis Q. Mclnemy, an Associate Professor of English at Bradley University, is the author 
of a book called Thomas Merton (1974) and has written articles on Thomas Merton and 
Bernard Malamud. He is working on a study of Eric Hoffer. 

Herb Russell is serving as a liaison officer for the Illinois Humanities Council and completing 
a doctoral degree at Southern IHinois University, Carbondale. His dissertation subject is 
Edgar Lee Masters. 

William White is Professor and Director of the Journalism program at Oakland University, 
Michigan, and also Visiting Professor of American Studies at Wayne State University, where 
he is the editor of Walt Whitman Review. He has authored a vast number of articles and 
books, one being By-Line: Ernest Hemingway (1967). 

Blair Whitney, formerly on the faculty at Michigan State University, is now Staff Associate 
for Academic Affairs for the Illinois Board of Higher Education. He has published on 
various midwestern literary figures, including the Twayne Series volume John G. Neihardt