The purpose of this study is to investigate one of the most important – and at the same time neglected – personalities of 20th century American literature, Carl Sandburg, through the analysis of his first and most influential poetical work, Chicago Poems (1916). Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was among the most famous and celebrated poets of his age. After gaining widespread recognition in 1916 with his first book of poems, the socially and politically committed Chicago Poems, he probably reached the peak of his popularity in the mid-1950's: he was loved by the people, acclaimed by the critics and honoured by the highest authorities. In 1951 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the third time for his Complete Poems: he had received the other two prizes in 1919 for his collection Cornhuskers, and in 1940 for the second volume of his monumental biography of Abraham Lincoln. By the mid-1960's, schools of any order and degree were named after him; he had received degrees honoris causa from all the most prestigious American universities; he was awarded honorary titles by many important institutions of the most varied kind and political orientation such as civil rights organizations and the Chamber of Commerce. He was even asked to stand as candidate for President, at different times, both by the Republicans and by the Democrats and, to date, he is the only American writer – and one of the very few private citizens – ever invited to give an address before the joint session of Congress (it happened on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln's birth in 1959). Carl Sandburg, in other words, was a living legend, a sort of walking monument and, in fact, both the house where he was born and the house where he died, on July the 22nd, 1967, later became national monuments and today are still preserved as historic sites. When Sandburg died, national mourning was proclaimed and, in September, a majestic service was held in his honour at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in the presence of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Today Carl Sandburg still holds a prominent position in the history of American culture. His poetry, however, is neglected and almost ignored by academic scholars. If a collection like Chicago Poems is still widely known and read – at least in the United States – Sandburg's critical reputation underwent a process of rapid deterioration. In many recent histories of American literature Sandburg is simply dismissed as a minor epigone of Walt Whitman. Trying to discover why and how this happened is one of the reasons behind this study: how could it happen that a poet, celebrated and honoured as a national institution during his lifetime, was so quickly put aside and forgotten after his death? In my opinion, there are three main reasons: in the first place, the progressive establishing of new critical trends which redefined the nature and functions of modern poetry; the second reason is mainly historical and it is related to a change in social and political conditions; finally – since I don't want, by all means, to imply that there was a sort of critical conspiracy against Sandburg –, an objective decline of his poetry after the Thirties, together with the weakening of its revolutionary message. Sandburg published his best poetical works between 1916 and 1920 (Chicago Poems, Cornhuskers, Smoke and Steel), after which he addressed himself to many disparate projects: fairy tales (Rootabaga Stories, 1922); folk music (The American Songbag, 1927) and biography. Publications of poetry became less and less frequent, the only significant works being Good Morning America (1928) and the long poem The People, Yes (1936). At the end of the Thirties, the so-called New Criticism was becoming established as the pre-eminent critical school, one which would be dominant in the next twenty years. The New Critics recommended total focus on the text, through close reading, deliberately ignoring every external element (historical, cultural, ideological factors), including the author and his background; they preached scientific rigour in the analysis of the text, with particular focus on its formal aspects, unity, coherence, etc.; they refused any psychological or emotional interpretation of the text. According to those criteria, Sandburg's poetry, whose main characteristics were political involvement and the use of free verse, was now virtually banished. The final stroke for Sandburg's reputation among the critics was a harsh review of his Complete Poems by William Carlos Williams, who in the Tens and Twenties had been very close to Sandburg's poetical and political ideas. His words were merciless: […] technically the poems reveal no initiative whatever other than their formlessness; there is no motivating spirit held in the front of the mind to control them. […] There never has been any positive value in the form or lack of form known as free verse into which Sandburg's verse is cast.1 At the same time, the historical and political conditions which, in the Tens and Twenties, allowed Sandburg's poetry to become so popular had radically changed. Politically committed literature was now viewed with suspicion, as testified by the disappearance of those Marxist newspapers and reviews which published the works of the vital tradition of leftwing American poetry. Moreover, after the Second World War, the social and economic situation of the American working class had markedly improved; as a consequence, the themes of Sandburg's poetry became less relevant and urgent. The present study, however, centres on Chicago Poems, the first volume of poetry published by Sandburg, and aims to thoroughly discuss the thematic and stylistic issues presented in the poems included in that book. The study is divided into four major chapters: 1) The first chapter is devoted to the literary context in which Sandburg wrote his Chicago Poems. Sandburg was in fact among the leading writers of the so-called “Chicago Literary Renaissance”, a moment of flourishing literary activity in the Chicago area, during the period from approximately 1912 to 1925, which saw the emergence of authors like Theodore Dreiser, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson and Vachel Lindsay. That literary movement is discussed in the first section of the chapter. The second section focuses on the reception of Chicago Poems by the critics of the time, while the final part examines Sandburg's relationship with other literary personalities of his time, not only the Chicago Renaissance representatives but also other pivotal American poets such as Ezra Pound and Robert Frost. 2) The second chapter is mainly biographical, focusing on Sandburg's life from his early childhood to the publication of Chicago Poems. Particular attention is paid to Sandburg's first literary experiments in which the future developments of his poetics can be discerned in embryo. 3) The third chapter is the core section of the book. It is devoted to the analysis and interpretation of virtually all the poems included in Sandburg's first collection. The major ones are analyzed in detail considering both the formal and content aspects of the poems. 4) The fourth and final chapter is a discussion of Sandburg's legacy to modern and contemporary poetry. The first section is a summary of Sandburg's literary production after Chicago Poems, with particular attention to his volumes of poetry. The second section discusses Carl Sandburg's influence on modern poetry with special emphasis on the authors of the Beat Generation and contemporary Afro-American poets.

Lonati, F., I Am the People. Carl Sandburg e i Chicago Poems, Aracne, Roma 2015:<<STUDI E TESTI DI PALAZZO SERRA>>, 272 [http://hdl.handle.net/10807/64893]

I Am the People. Carl Sandburg e i Chicago Poems

Lonati, Franco
2015

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to investigate one of the most important – and at the same time neglected – personalities of 20th century American literature, Carl Sandburg, through the analysis of his first and most influential poetical work, Chicago Poems (1916). Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was among the most famous and celebrated poets of his age. After gaining widespread recognition in 1916 with his first book of poems, the socially and politically committed Chicago Poems, he probably reached the peak of his popularity in the mid-1950's: he was loved by the people, acclaimed by the critics and honoured by the highest authorities. In 1951 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the third time for his Complete Poems: he had received the other two prizes in 1919 for his collection Cornhuskers, and in 1940 for the second volume of his monumental biography of Abraham Lincoln. By the mid-1960's, schools of any order and degree were named after him; he had received degrees honoris causa from all the most prestigious American universities; he was awarded honorary titles by many important institutions of the most varied kind and political orientation such as civil rights organizations and the Chamber of Commerce. He was even asked to stand as candidate for President, at different times, both by the Republicans and by the Democrats and, to date, he is the only American writer – and one of the very few private citizens – ever invited to give an address before the joint session of Congress (it happened on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln's birth in 1959). Carl Sandburg, in other words, was a living legend, a sort of walking monument and, in fact, both the house where he was born and the house where he died, on July the 22nd, 1967, later became national monuments and today are still preserved as historic sites. When Sandburg died, national mourning was proclaimed and, in September, a majestic service was held in his honour at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in the presence of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Today Carl Sandburg still holds a prominent position in the history of American culture. His poetry, however, is neglected and almost ignored by academic scholars. If a collection like Chicago Poems is still widely known and read – at least in the United States – Sandburg's critical reputation underwent a process of rapid deterioration. In many recent histories of American literature Sandburg is simply dismissed as a minor epigone of Walt Whitman. Trying to discover why and how this happened is one of the reasons behind this study: how could it happen that a poet, celebrated and honoured as a national institution during his lifetime, was so quickly put aside and forgotten after his death? In my opinion, there are three main reasons: in the first place, the progressive establishing of new critical trends which redefined the nature and functions of modern poetry; the second reason is mainly historical and it is related to a change in social and political conditions; finally – since I don't want, by all means, to imply that there was a sort of critical conspiracy against Sandburg –, an objective decline of his poetry after the Thirties, together with the weakening of its revolutionary message. Sandburg published his best poetical works between 1916 and 1920 (Chicago Poems, Cornhuskers, Smoke and Steel), after which he addressed himself to many disparate projects: fairy tales (Rootabaga Stories, 1922); folk music (The American Songbag, 1927) and biography. Publications of poetry became less and less frequent, the only significant works being Good Morning America (1928) and the long poem The People, Yes (1936). At the end of the Thirties, the so-called New Criticism was becoming established as the pre-eminent critical school, one which would be dominant in the next twenty years. The New Critics recommended total focus on the text, through close reading, deliberately ignoring every external element (historical, cultural, ideological factors), including the author and his background; they preached scientific rigour in the analysis of the text, with particular focus on its formal aspects, unity, coherence, etc.; they refused any psychological or emotional interpretation of the text. According to those criteria, Sandburg's poetry, whose main characteristics were political involvement and the use of free verse, was now virtually banished. The final stroke for Sandburg's reputation among the critics was a harsh review of his Complete Poems by William Carlos Williams, who in the Tens and Twenties had been very close to Sandburg's poetical and political ideas. His words were merciless: […] technically the poems reveal no initiative whatever other than their formlessness; there is no motivating spirit held in the front of the mind to control them. […] There never has been any positive value in the form or lack of form known as free verse into which Sandburg's verse is cast.1 At the same time, the historical and political conditions which, in the Tens and Twenties, allowed Sandburg's poetry to become so popular had radically changed. Politically committed literature was now viewed with suspicion, as testified by the disappearance of those Marxist newspapers and reviews which published the works of the vital tradition of leftwing American poetry. Moreover, after the Second World War, the social and economic situation of the American working class had markedly improved; as a consequence, the themes of Sandburg's poetry became less relevant and urgent. The present study, however, centres on Chicago Poems, the first volume of poetry published by Sandburg, and aims to thoroughly discuss the thematic and stylistic issues presented in the poems included in that book. The study is divided into four major chapters: 1) The first chapter is devoted to the literary context in which Sandburg wrote his Chicago Poems. Sandburg was in fact among the leading writers of the so-called “Chicago Literary Renaissance”, a moment of flourishing literary activity in the Chicago area, during the period from approximately 1912 to 1925, which saw the emergence of authors like Theodore Dreiser, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson and Vachel Lindsay. That literary movement is discussed in the first section of the chapter. The second section focuses on the reception of Chicago Poems by the critics of the time, while the final part examines Sandburg's relationship with other literary personalities of his time, not only the Chicago Renaissance representatives but also other pivotal American poets such as Ezra Pound and Robert Frost. 2) The second chapter is mainly biographical, focusing on Sandburg's life from his early childhood to the publication of Chicago Poems. Particular attention is paid to Sandburg's first literary experiments in which the future developments of his poetics can be discerned in embryo. 3) The third chapter is the core section of the book. It is devoted to the analysis and interpretation of virtually all the poems included in Sandburg's first collection. The major ones are analyzed in detail considering both the formal and content aspects of the poems. 4) The fourth and final chapter is a discussion of Sandburg's legacy to modern and contemporary poetry. The first section is a summary of Sandburg's literary production after Chicago Poems, with particular attention to his volumes of poetry. The second section discusses Carl Sandburg's influence on modern poetry with special emphasis on the authors of the Beat Generation and contemporary Afro-American poets.
Italiano
Monografia o trattato scientifico
Aracne
Lonati, F., I Am the People. Carl Sandburg e i Chicago Poems, Aracne, Roma 2015:<<STUDI E TESTI DI PALAZZO SERRA>>, 272 [http://hdl.handle.net/10807/64893]
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