Carl Sandburg Song Cycle

The next post from the Knecht&Kirby concert is my Sandburg cycle.
I have enjoyed Carl Sandburg's poetry since it was suggested to me in 9th grade by friend Kevin Boyd. This set of 5 songs is about 5 years old now. I appropriately wrote it over the move to Cornhusker country. There is something about his poetry that is at once humorous and very serious - like all good things. After showing one setting to a composition teacher, he said, "I don't know if I'm supposed to laugh or cry." I responded, "That's exactly what I was attempting." Incidentally, the "Grieg" movement accompaniment was composed completely by reassembling different Grieg motives out of context.

5 POEMS BY CARL SANDBURG

I. THE HANGMAN AT HOME

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WHAT does the hangman think about
When he goes home at night from work?
When he sits down with his wife and
Children for a cup of coffee and a
Plate of ham and eggs, do they ask 5
Him if it was a good day’s work
And everything went well or do they
Stay off some topics and talk about
The weather, base ball, politics
And the comic strips in the papers 10
And the movies? Do they look at his
Hands when he reaches for the coffee
Or the ham and eggs? If the little
Ones say, Daddy, play horse, here’s
A rope—does he answer like a joke: 15
I seen enough rope for today?
Or does his face light up like a
Bonfire of joy and does he say:
It’s a good and dandy world we live
In. And if a white face moon looks 20
In through a window where a baby girl
Sleeps and the moon gleams mix with
Baby ears and baby hair—the hangman—
How does he act then? It must be easy
For him. Anything is easy for a hangman, 25
I guess.


II. MONOTONE

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THE MONOTONE of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of the long multitudinous rain.
The sun on the hills is beautiful,
Or a captured sunset sea-flung, 5
Bannered with fire and gold.
A face I know is beautiful—
With fire and gold of sky and sea,
And the peace of long warm rain.


III. PERSONALITY: MUSINGS OF A POLICE REPORTER IN THE IDENTIFICATION BUREAU

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You have loved forty women, but you have only one thumb.
You have led a hundred secret lives, but you mark only one thumb.
You go round the world and fight in a thousand wars and win all the world's honors, but when you come back home the print of the one thumb your mother gave you is the same print of thumb you had in the old home when your mother kissed you and said good-by.
Out of whirling womb of time comes millions of men
and their feet crowd the earth and they cut one anothers' throats for room to stand and among them all are not two thumbs alike.
Somewhere is a Great God of Thumbs who can tell the inside story of this.

IV. GRIEG BEING DEAD

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Grieg being dead we may speak of him and his art.
Grieg being dead we can talk about whether he was any good or not.
Grieg being with Ibsen, Björnson, Lief Ericson and the rest,
Grieg being dead does not care a hell's hoot what we say.

Morning, Spring, Anitra's Dance,
He dreams them at the doors of new stars.

V. BLACK HORIZONS

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Black horizons, come up.
Black horizons, kiss me.
That is all; so many lies; killing so cheap;
babies so cheap; blood, people so cheap; and
land high, land dear; a speck of the earth
costs; a suck at the tit of Mother Dirt so
clean and strong, it costs; fences, papers,
sheriffs; fences, laws, guns; and so many
stars and so few hours to dream; such a big
song and so little a footing to stand and
sing; take a look; wars to come; red rivers
to cross.
Black horizons, come up.
Black horizons, kiss me.

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