"I am the people-the crowd-the mass."
With the opening lines of his famous poem, Sandburg could easily have been describing himself. In his poetry and other writings, he was America's voice, an unashamed advocate for the common man. His poetry often deals with poignant portrayals of factory workers, immigrants and laborers. He didn't just write about them, though, he truly understood them. During his own life he experienced many of the same problems and difficulties that they had.
Carl Sandburg was born in 1878 to poor Swedish immigrants in Galesburg, Illinois. Life was hard, and Sandburg left school early to work a variety of jobs, including delivering milk and shining shoes. After drifting around the Midwest working in various places, he joined the military and fought in the Spanish-American War. After the war, he was able to attend college, and he enrolled at Lombard College in Galesburg, where he was born. He never finished, but his ability with words did not go unoticed. Encouraged and aided by a professor, he self-published a few booklets of poems and essays. A vagabond at heart however, Sandburg didn't want to stay in once place. He worked as a traveling salesman for awhile, then became involved with the Social-Democratic party. It was while he worked for the party that he met his futute wife, Lilian Steichen, whom he would marry in 1908, and with whom he would have three children.
Dissatisfied with the Social-Democrats, Sandburg decided to relocate to Chicago, where he worked as a journalist. He continued to get his poetry published here and there, and eventually was able to publish some of his work in a renowned poetry magazine. In 1916, he published his first book of poetry, Chicago, a collection of poems celebrating the city he loved. In 1918, he published Cornhuskers, his second collection of poems. More volumes of poetry followed, mostly spare, powerful blank verse. Sandburg did not confine himself to poetry, though. He wrote as a journalist, and performed stories and songs, accompanying himself on the guitar. He even wrote down and published the imaginative stories he told his children, called The Rootabaga Stories. One of his greatest accomplishments, however, was in yet another genre of literature, a biography of Abraham Lincoln, which won the Pulitzer Prize. The work was painstakingly reasearched and lovingly executed, earning Sanburg more success than all of his previous work.
In 1952, he moved with his wife to "Connemara," an estae they had purchased in North Carolina. Sandburg settled down to write his memoirs, which he did, as well as more poetry. He became the first private citizen to speak before a joint session of Congress, when he gave an address on Lincoln Day. He even served as a creative consultant to a Hollywood film, The Greatest Story Ever Told. He enjoyed recognition for his many achievements until his death in 1967, at his beloved Connemara.
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