Experience

Carl Sandburg - 1878-1967

This morning I looked at the map of the day
And said to myself, “This is the way! This is the way I will go;
Thus shall I range on the roads of achievement,
The way is so clear—it shall all be a joy on the lines marked out.”
And then as I went came a place that was strange,—
’Twas a place not down on the map!
And I stumbled and fell and lay in the weeds,
And looked on the day with rue.

I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.

I see those men with maps and talk
Who tell how to go and where and why;
I hear with my ears the words of their mouths,
As they finger with ease the marks on the maps;
And only as one looks robust, lonely, and querulous,
As if he had gone to a country far
And made for himself a map,
Do I cry to him, “I would see your map!
I would heed that map you have!”

More by Carl Sandburg

Chicago

        Hog Butcher for the World,
        Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
        Player with Railroads and the Nation's 
             Freight Handler;
        Stormy, husky, brawling,
        City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
            Bareheaded,
            Shoveling,
            Wrecking,
            Planning,
            Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
             Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking 
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I am the People, the Mob

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—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.
The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

Related Poems

Going for Water

The well was dry beside the door,  
  And so we went with pail and can  
Across the fields behind the house  
  To seek the brook if still it ran;  
  
Not loth to have excuse to go,
  Because the autumn eve was fair  
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,  
  And by the brook our woods were there.  
  
We ran as if to meet the moon  
  That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,  
  Without the birds, without the breeze.  
  
But once within the wood, we paused  
  Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,  
Ready to run to hiding new
  With laughter when she found us soon.  
  
Each laid on other a staying hand  
  To listen ere we dared to look,  
And in the hush we joined to make  
  We heard, we knew we heard the brook. 
  
A note as from a single place,  
  A slender tinkling fall that made  
Now drops that floated on the pool  
  Like pearls, and now a silver blade.