Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, March 17, 2017

Carl Sandburg: A.E.F. & Buttons

Carl Sandburg —Army Veteran, War Correspondent, Sentimentalist, Socialist, Populist, Globalist, Novelist, Biographer, and Poet. A man of so many parts it's probably impossible to list  them all. No  doubt he was deeply affected by the First World War. For a lot of Americans (as Sherwood Anderson wrote) "among all  the poets of America he is my poet." Here are two representative poems (I think) from his First World War  period.  Additions and opinions welcome in the comments section.

A. E. F.

There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,

The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.

A spider will make a silver string nest in the darkest, warmest corner of it.

The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.

And no hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.

Forefingers and thumbs will point absently and casually toward it.

It will be spoken among half-forgotten, wished-to-be-forgotten things.

They will tell the spider: Go on, you're doing good work.


I HAVE been watching the war map slammed up for
advertising in front of the newspaper office.
Buttons–red and yellow buttons–blue and black buttons–
are shoved back and forth across the map.

A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one
inch west.

(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in
a red soak along a river edge,
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling
death in their throats.)

Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one
inch on the war map here in front of the newspaper
office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing

to us?

~ Carl Sandburg 

Source: Smoke and Steel, 1920


  1. Wonderful! So happy to see these poems shared!

  2. My favourite Carl Sandburg poem:

    Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
    Shovel them under and let me work—
                  I am the grass; I cover all.

    And pile them high at Gettysburg
    And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
    Shovel them under and let me work.

    Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                  What place is this?
                  Where are we now?
    I am the grass.
    Let me work.

  3. "And NO hands will polish the gun..."

    there is a typo in this line.