Carl Sandburg's Ten Definitions of Poetry


Carl Sandburg(1878-1967), Illinois poet, folksinger, and biographer of Abraham Lincoln, has always been more admired by the public than by the critics. And that is as he would wish, for he said of himself "I am the people - the mob - the crowd - the mass." Before his death, the former hobo had won almost every prize a writer can receive. In Good Morning, America (1928), he wrote thirty-eight definitions of poetry, of which the following ten are typical.

Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.

Poetry is a journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly the air.

Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.

Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.

Poetry is a theorem of a yellow-silk handkerchief knotted with riddles, sealed in a balloon tied to the tail of a kite flying in a white wind against a blue sky in spring.

Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.

Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and then entombing it.

Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment.