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Carl Sandburg


By day the skyscraper looms in the smoke and sun and
     has a soul.
Prairie and valley, streets of the city, pour people into
     it and they mingle among its twenty floors and are
     poured out again back to the streets, prairies and
It is the men and women, boys and girls so poured in and
     out all day that give the building a soul of dreams
     and thoughts and memories.
(Dumped in the sea or fixed in a desert, who would care
     for the building or speak its name or ask a policeman
     the way to it?)

Elevators slide on their cables and tubes catch letters and
     parcels and iron pipes carry gas and water in and
     sewage out.
Wires climb with secrets, carry light and carry words,
     and tell terrors and profits and loves--curses of men
     grappling plans of business and questions of women
     in plots of love.

Hour by hour the caissons reach down to the rock of the
     earth and hold the building to a turning planet.
Hour by hour the girders play as ribs and reach out and
     hold together the stone walls and floors.

Hour by hour the hand of the mason and the stuff of the
     mortar clinch the pieces and parts to the shape an
     architect voted.
Hour by hour the sun and the rain, the air and the rust,
     and the press of time running into centuries, play
     on the building inside and out and use it.

Men who sunk the pilings and mixed the mortar are laid
     in graves where the wind whistles a wild song
     without words
And so are men who strung the wires and fixed the pipes
     and tubes and those who saw it rise floor by floor.
Souls of them all are here, even the hod carrier begging
     at back doors hundreds of miles away and the brick-
     layer who went to state's prison for shooting another
     man while drunk.
(One man fell from a girder and broke his neck at the
     end of a straight plunge--he is here--his soul has
     gone into the stones of the building.)

On the office doors from tier to tier--hundreds of names
     and each name standing for a face written across
     with a dead child, a passionate lover, a driving
     ambition for a million dollar business or a lobster's
     ease of life.

Behind the signs on the doors they work and the walls
     tell nothing from room to room.
Ten-dollar-a-week stenographers take letters from
     corporation officers, lawyers, efficiency engineers,
     and tons of letters go bundled from the building to all
     ends of the earth.
Smiles and tears of each office girl go into the soul of
     the building just the same as the master-men who
     rule the building.

Hands of clocks turn to noon hours and each floor
     empties its men and women who go away and eat
     and come back to work.
Toward the end of the afternoon all work slackens and
     all jobs go slower as the people feel day closing on
One by one the floors are emptied. . . The uniformed
     elevator men are gone. Pails clang. . . Scrubbers
     work, talking in foreign tongues. Broom and water
     and mop clean from the floors human dust and spit,
     and machine grime of the day.
Spelled in electric fire on the roof are words telling
     miles of houses and people where to buy a thing for
     money. The sign speaks till midnight.

Darkness on the hallways. Voices echo. Silence
     holds. . . Watchmen walk slow from floor to floor
     and try the doors. Revolvers bulge from their hip
     pockets. . . Steel safes stand in corners. Money
     is stacked in them.
A young watchman leans at a window and sees the lights
     of barges butting their way across a harbor, nets of
     red and white lanterns in a railroad yard, and a span
     of glooms splashed with lines of white and blurs of
     crosses and clusters over the sleeping city.
By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars
     and has a soul.


This poem is in the public domain.



Carl Sandburg (1878 - 1967) was an American poet, children's author, and biographer. The son of Swedish parents who immigrated to Illinois, Carl was forced to drop out of school after the eighth grade to help support the family. He worked at a number of different jobs, then did a stint as a hobo before volunteering to serve in the Spanish-American war. A plain-speaking poet with a style similar to that of Walt Whitman, Carl often chose American life as his subject matter--especially industry, agriculture, and the common man. Like Whitman, he attended several colleges, but never received a degree, except for honorary ones bestowed years later on the merit of his work.


Post New Comment:
Lots of words. Accurate descriptions, but no strong incentive to care about what he describes. I prefer the little cat footed fog.
Posted 05/17/2015 03:26 PM
Yes, his view of America was not entirely through rose-colored glasses: Darkness on the hallways. Voices echo. Silence holds. . . Watchmen walk slow from floor to floor / and try the doors. Revolvers bulge from their hip / pockets. . . Steel safes stand in corners. Money / is stacked in them. /
Posted 05/16/2015 11:27 PM

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