Sandburg and Lincoln

B. Nash with Sandburg Newsweek magazine

B. Nash with Sandburg Newsweek magazine



To me Carl Sandburg and Abraham Lincoln are strongly connected. I think Sandburg knew LincolnHow could one write a biography of Lincoln like Sandburg’s and not know him. And Sandburg was like Lincoln. They both achieved greatness yet they were simple men. I think they were both happiest with things that money can’t buy-like being with their families.  Sandburg once said:

“What I need mainly is three things in life, possibly four. To be out of jail, to eat regular, to get what I write printed, and a little love at home and a little outside.”

This quote comes from a man who was world famous, had won multiple awards, and had met with people from all walks of life-from royalty to the common person on the street.  Abraham Lincoln was the same way. Although he became president and achieved much- he simply wanted to see the world a bit  and then settle down in his hometown afterward.  Of course, Lincoln never got to realize his “retirement desires.” The assassin’s bullet took care of that. Unlike Lincoln who died as a result at age 56, Sandburg lived to the ripe old age of 89. I love seeing those photographs of Sandburg and his wife Lillian (he called her “Paula”) at their home in Flat Rock, North Carolina. There is something quite endearing seeing Sandburg tending his herd of goats or playing his guitar with guests. I think Lincoln would have related well to Sandburg’s love of home and hearth. Lincoln loved his Springfield home. One the day he left Springfield for Washington-never to return-one gets the sense that not only was he overwhelmed with the task that laid before him-but he was deeply sad at parting. There was something else Sandburg and Lincoln had very much in common-humor.  Some have attributed this quote to Lincoln:

“I laugh because I must not cry…”

I don’t know if Lincoln actually said that. However, it is true that Lincoln loved humor. He took jokes. He was playful, if you will. I think it was this part of Lincoln-the childlike side of him-that caused him to get along with children so well-especially his boys. Carl Sandburg, I’ve noticed, employs a lot of humor in his poetry. Read his works-you’ll find the humor. Mark Van Doren said this about Sandburg and his humor in the Introduction to Harvest Poems:

“Carl Sandburg, like all of the other American poets who came into prominence with him, brought something back to poetry that had been sadly missing in the early years of this century. It was humor, the indispensable ingredient of art as it is of life…. Humor is the final sign and seal of seriousness, for it is a proof that reality is held in honor and in love.”

So Sandburg and Lincoln would have enjoyed each other’s humor-safe to say. They were both “cut ups”-as my folks used to say.

May I also suggest one more similarity between the two-Sandburg and Lincoln? They were both poets. One cannot read the writings of Lincoln and not see the poetry of his words. Was there ever a more poetic writing than Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Sandburg thought Lincoln was a poet. In his The People, Yes poem, Sandburg wrote:

“Lincoln? was he a poet? and did he write verses? ‘I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.’ ‘I shall do nothing through malice; what I deal with is too vast for malice.’ “

Yes, Lincoln and Sandburg were kindred spirits. Would it be too much to think Sandburg a reincarnation of Lincoln? Probably so.  Suffice it to say that Sandburg had a deep connection to Lincoln-there was something between the two that can’t be put in words nor understand easily. There’s a neat cartoon inside the 1955 Newsweek magazine featuring Sandburg and Lincoln on the cover. It shows Abraham Lincoln sitting down in front of a gentleman who is talking to someone on the telephone. The caption to the cartoon reads:

“There’s a gentleman here with a biography of Carl Sandburg.”

The joke with the cartoon is that the “gentleman” with the biography of Carl Sandburg is Abraham Lincoln. That’s how connected they were…









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2 Responses to “Sandburg and Lincoln”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Great comments Rob! Thanks.

  2. Rob Wick says:

    Excellent post, Bill. Sandburg certainly had his problems, and I think sometimes his public persona was a bit staged (especially after he became famous), but your general point is, I believe, spot on. I always loved the story that had Sandburg walking down the beach in Harbert, his mind deep in thought. A man dressed like Lincoln walked past and said “good morning, Mr. Sandburg” and without missing a beat Sandburg replied “good morning, Mr. President.” Sandburg got so deeply into Lincoln’s mind that, in spite of his mistakes, he still got the man right.


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