Thursday, August 16, 2012

Free vs Constraints -- Sandburg - Frost

One of the delights of investigation -- in library books or on the internet or walking about in the world -- is that one bit of information opens doors to lots of others.  And so, as I was learning about Eleanor Graham for Monday's posting, I found her essay entitled "The first time I saw Carl Sandburg he didn't see me" and was reminded in a new way of the ongoing debate about the value of formal constraints in poetry. 
Graham offers Robert Frost's words, ‘‘I would no more think of writing free verse than of playing tennis without a net.’’ followed by a rejoinder by Sandburg, ‘‘One of our foremost poets has said that he would no more think of writing free verse than of playing tennis without a net, but I would have him know that I have not only played tennis without a net but have used the stars for tennis balls.’’  Interested readers are invited to visit Graham's article (originally in North American Review in 1967) for still more.  Here is a poem -- with a million and thousands and five -- by Carl Sandburg.


 Love Beyond Keeping     by Carl Sandburg

          She had a box
with a million red silk bandannas for him.
         She gave them to him
         one by one or by thousands,
         saying then she had not enough for him.

   She had languages and landscapes
   on her lips and the end of her tongue,
   landscapes of sunny hills and changing fogs,
   of houses falling and people within falling,
          of a left-handed man
   who died for a woman who went out of her mind,
          of a guitar player
   who died with fingers reaching for strings,
          of a man whose heart stopped
   as his hand went out to put a pawn forward
          on the fifth day of one game of chess,
             of five gay women
             stricken and lost
             amid the javelins and chants
             of love beyond keeping.

I have "Love Beyond Keeping" in Sandburg's 1963 collection Honey and Salt (Harcourt Brace).

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