The Harbor

PASSING through huddled and ugly walls
By doorways where women
Looked from their hunger-deep eyes,
Haunted with shadows of hunger-hands,
Out from the huddled and ugly walls,
I came sudden, at the city's edge,
On a blue burst of lake,
Long lake waves breaking under the sun
On a spray-flung curve of shore;
And a fluttering storm of gulls,
Masses of great gray wings
And flying white bellies
Veering and wheeling free in the open.

Carl Sandburg (1878–1967)

What I like most about Carl Sandburg is his simple style of imagery of urban America. It's straightforward and easy to enjoy. I can imagine what it might have been like for him as he walked the streets of Chicago in 1916. It's been many years since I was there but I can recall experiencing a similar transition from the closed in urban surroundings Haunted with shadows of hunger-hands, Out from the huddled and ugly walls, to the sharp cold and bitingly windy shore of Lake Michigan, the --Long lake waves breaking under the sun On a spray-flung curve of shore; And a fluttering storm of gulls, . I can easily recall standing the on the wet sand in a dark blue windbreaker and hearing the sounds of the gulls against the flapping of the man made wind-resistant material while I offered sustenance of Rainbow bread upon the waters. It is a sense of being quite overwhelmed by nature, very liberating and so well defined here by Sandburg. This isn't the first time poets have used the experience of the natural sublime, first delineated in eighteenth-century period of Enlightenment by philosophers Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke. A lot of Sandburg’s poetry compares and contrasts his direct observations between the developing technological and urban medium with its seemingly isolation from the surrounding nature. Notice that he doesn't add any color until he has reached the shore and how he goes from the eye catching blue focal point of the massive presence of the lake and invites the reader to look up where he has painted gray and white birds freely against the sky. By skillfully painting a midwestern scene he contrasts the solitude of city dwellers from the rhythms of the natural landscape and the resulting loss of the investment and spiritual connection with nature.

from Chicago Poems(1916)


Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved
The harbor was dark and the captain was
asleep, soundly.
Like a theif in the stillness, a boy cried out for his

Baby blue was black and the royal was blacker and
when they pressed on tomorow the skies
would change course with them.

The Harbor was safe and the captain lay sleeping.
The noise of the footsteps was not to be heard.
The others were basking in dreams of illusions and
the waters were lapping against the bow like a

Harbor, please save me and wake up the captain.
The foorsteps are louder, the watchman is dead.
The course has been changed and the 'times are a-changin',
I've conquered my demons and keep them under my bed.

Where is my mother, I long to be in her and
wombs are like saviors and the birth cannot lie.
I've lost all my mothers and illusions are crackers
that go down quite well with a bit of this tide.

The Harbor has lost me. The footsteps are on me
the others aren't sleeping, the captain is sleeping;
he'll go down with his ship before the night ends.

The Harbor is safe and the black is upon me.
The Harbor is full and the captain sleeps on.
The Harbor is safe and the black is within me.
The Harbor, palms up, says I must move on.

The Harbor is safe and the black seems to fill me.
The Harbor can't fight the footsteps and tide.
The Harbor is mother is womb is my savior.
The Harbor turns backwards and says birth has lied.
The Harbor is safe and I'm drowning in blackness.
The Harbor is dark and the captain is still.
The Harbor is drowning, the footsteps have broken.
The Harbor is captain is sleeping is the blackness is
filling me up
and I'd be safe in the Harbor
the palms, they are bleeding,
the holes,they are drowning the others within.

The Harbor is dark and quiet and the captain is
sleeping, soundly.
Like a theif in the stillness, I cry out for my

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