Poem #2 : Skyscraper Carl Sandburg

This poem by Carl Sandburg ties in with my post about skyscrapers.

By day the skyscraper looms in the smoke and sun and

has a soul.

Prairie and valley, streets of the city, pour people into

it and they mingle among its twenty floors and are

poured out again back to the streets, prairies and


It is the men and women, boys and girls so poured in and

out all day that give the building a soul of dreams

and thoughts and memories.

(Dumped in the sea or fixed in a desert, who would care

for the building or speak its name or ask a policeman

the way to it?)

Elevators slide on their cables and tubes catch letters and

parcels and iron pipes carry gas and water in and

sewage out.

Wires climb with secrets, carry light and carry words,

and tell terrors and profits and loves–curses of men

grappling plans of business and questions of women

in plots of love.

Hour by hour the caissons reach down to the rock of the

earth and hold the building to a turning planet.

Hour by hour the girders play as ribs and reach out and

hold together the stone walls and floors.

Hour by hour the hand of the mason and the stuff of the

mortar clinch the pieces and parts to the shape an

architect voted.

Hour by hour the sun and the rain, the air and the rust,

and the press of time running into centuries, play

on the building inside and out and use it.

Men who sunk the pilings and mixed the mortar are laid

in graves where the wind whistles a wild song

without words

And so are men who strung the wires and fixed the pipes

and tubes and those who saw it rise floor by floor.

Souls of them all are here, even the hod carrier begging

at back doors hundreds of miles away and the brick-

layer who went to state’s prison for shooting another

man while drunk.

(One man fell from a girder and broke his neck at the

end of a straight plunge–he is here–his soul has

gone into the stones of the building.)

On the office doors from tier to tier–hundreds of names

and each name standing for a face written across

with a dead child, a passionate lover, a driving

ambition for a million dollar business or a lobster’s

ease of life.

Behind the signs on the doors they work and the walls

tell nothing from room to room.

Ten-dollar-a-week stenographers take letters from

corporation officers, lawyers, efficiency engineers,

and tons of letters go bundled from the building to all

ends of the earth.

Smiles and tears of each office girl go into the soul of

the building just the same as the master-men who

rule the building.

Hands of clocks turn to noon hours and each floor

empties its men and women who go away and eat

and come back to work.

Toward the end of the afternoon all work slackens and

all jobs go slower as the people feel day closing on


One by one the floors are emptied. . . The uniformed

elevator men are gone. Pails clang. . . Scrubbers

work, talking in foreign tongues. Broom and water

and mop clean from the floors human dust and spit,

and machine grime of the day.

Spelled in electric fire on the roof are words telling

miles of houses and people where to buy a thing for

money. The sign speaks till midnight.

Darkness on the hallways. Voices echo. Silence

holds. . . Watchmen walk slow from floor to floor

and try the doors. Revolvers bulge from their hip

pockets. . . Steel safes stand in corners. Money

is stacked in them.

A young watchman leans at a window and sees the lights

of barges butting their way across a harbor, nets of

red and white lanterns in a railroad yard, and a span

of glooms splashed with lines of white and blurs of

crosses and clusters over the sleeping city.

By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars

and has a soul.

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