Monday, 20 January 2014

A thought provoking poem by Carl Sandburg

Some days my poem-of-the-day e-mail comes up with something I find really engaging. Yesterday was one of those days, with the offering of Mag by Carl Sandberg. Who he? Sandburg (1878 - 1967) was an American writer, best known for his poetry: he was of poor Swedish stock and also enjoyed a reputation as a sometime folk singer. Apparently he inspired a young Bob Dylan. Not withstanding all these biographical details, let's return to the poem. I find it quite disturbing and pondering on it distracted me whilst I grappled with a recalcitrant bolt on our car. What is the poet expressing? Regret? Remorse? Make your own mind up. Here it is, followed by an excellent reading from the poet himself. I'll jot down my thoughts about it at the end. 

I WISH to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish you never quit your job and came along with me.
I wish we never bought a license and a white dress
For you to get married in the day we ran off to a minister
And told him we would love each other and take care of
     each other
Always and always long as the sun and the rain lasts anywhere.
Yes, I'm wishing now you lived somewhere away from here
And I was a bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away
     dead broke.
I wish the kids had never come
And rent and coal and clothes to pay for
And a grocery man calling for cash,
Every day cash for beans and prunes.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish to God the kids had never come.

What did I think of it? It struck me that this could be a poem of regret and remorse: the bitterness of a poor, overworked family man  Is he just sick and tired of being sick and tired of everything - and broke? He needs cash for rent and coal and clothes and cash for those beans and prunes. Perhaps he feels totally incapable of providing what his family needs? If he'd never met Mag, all this would not have happened. Will he feel the same way after he has rested and breakfasted the next morning? 

On the other hand, of course, he could just be totally disillusioned with love and family life and wants out. He is angry that marriage is meant to be "Always and always long as the sun and the rain lasts anywhere." but he's "wishing now you lived somewhere away from here" and that "the kids had never come".

What if he had never met Mag? If he's married a Peggy or a Sue, would he have wound up just as bitter? Something to ponder on.

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