Sunday, January 18, 2009

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

Tuesday, a young volunteer, cuddles one of the goats at the National Historic site that was Sandburg's home.


Carl Sandburg lived in Flat Rock, NC for the later years of his life. He and his wife moved there in 1945. I remember studying his poetry when I was in high school. The one I remember best was 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,
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 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.

I was excited the day we drove over to Connemara, Sandburg's house. My husband humored me and went along but did not take the tour of the house. He prowled the grounds of the National Historic site, and found the goat barn with some of the descendants of Mrs. Sandburg's famous goat herd.
While her husband wrote all night, his wife, Lillian, slept, and when she arose each morning, Sandburg had just gone to bed in his little room off the study where he penned his famous lines.
She was most considerate about his writing and built the goat barn a good distance from the house so the clanking of milk buckets would not awaken him.
I enjoyed a private tour of the house, saw the thousands of books Carl Sandburg read and those he wrote, heard about his peculiarities and such. I had to climb narrow steep stairs which I'm not sure I'd do now. One of the most interesting parts of the house was the basement or cellar where baby goats were brought in and fed. The huge stove used at the time, still sits against a wall, and the guide showed me how it worked to heat the area. In fact, I think that stove heated the whole house.

I found Barry waiting on a bench outside and we strolled down to see the goats. The historic site is manned by volunteers and two of them were children. Tuesday, a ten year old girl, and her friend, a young boy, Evan, helped with feeding the goats and telling visitors all about the herd. She knew which breeds in the pen were from the original award winning goats that won medals from contests held around the world. I was surprised to hear goat breeders from several countries entered the competitions. A framed photo of one special champion goat hung on Lillian's office wall. This goat produced more milk than the other contenders.
It was Lillian who wanted to move to North Carolina where the goats would have longer grazing seasons in the green pastures of the farm.

Connemara is an interesting place to visit and I'd like to go back again soon before my knees give out and I can't climb the steep stairs.
I'm sure the beautiful setting of his three story home, his total freedom to write when and as often as he wanted, gave him opportunities that few of us have with busy lives, working, caring for loved ones, managing our duties of the household. Living at Connemara was like being on a writing retreat every day.
I could enjoy that life style. Write, eat, drink, sleep, write, eat, drink, sleep. He could take a break and go out on that top deck and look over the pond, the forests to the rolling mountains in the distance.

I was told Sandburg like to climb up on a large rock in the back yard of the house and write while sitting there. His old typewriters are sitting on little desks and tables in one room, and I thought about his fingers typing poems that will live forever. He died in this house at the age of 89 on July 22, 1967, but is not buried there. His ashes were taken to his birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois.

I'd advise anyone who hasn't visited Connemara to go on a spring or fall day. Take plenty of time to wonder around, sit on a bench and find the peace that abounds there. I recommend anyone who has difficulty walking up a long hill, be sure to ring for the shuttle. We didn't see the sign and struggled along stopping to rest several times. The walk back was much easier.
But it was worth the effort to learn more about one of the greatest poets of the United States and walk where he walked, created and wrote his classic poetry.

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