Carl Sandburg & Whitman: the American Body

Gargoyle by Carl Sandburg

I saw a mouth jeering. A smile of melted red iron ran over it. Its laugh
was full of nails rattling. It was a child’s dream of a mouth.
A fist hit the mouth: knuckles of gun-metal driven by an electric wrist and
shoulder. It was a child’s dream of an arm.
The fist hit the mouth over and over, again and again. The mouth bled
melted iron, and laughed its laughter of nails rattling.
And I saw the more the fist pounded the more the mouth laughed. The
fist is pounding and pounding, and the mouth answering.

Carl Sandburg’s poem “Gargoyle” creates America as a body. He treats America in a similar way and voice as Whitman would. He starts with giving it a mouth. At his present time, this mouth is jeering—which asks to be prodded at, and risen up against. The “smile of melted red iron” that runs “over” America’s face speaks to the growing industry and urbanization of the country. Stated as “a child’s dream of a mouth,” America, in this part, is seen from a naïve, idealizing perspective. A child’s dream of a mouth would probably exaggerate its most simple functions—eating and speaking. During this time, America’s expansion and advances could seem gluttonous and indulgent.

In my mind, “It was a child’s dream of an arm” lends itself more towards Whitman than towards America. This is reinforced by Whitman’s idealized image of the human body, and all its parts, working as it should.

The fist that is present in the rest of the poem I took originally to be Whitman’s. The “electric wrist” that first hits the mouth creates a direct link in my mind to “I Sing the Body Electric.” Later, this fist embodies Sandburg and others whom Whitman has influenced. An entire force gathers behind it; it has gained some power. This fist is now not Whitman alone but a whole slew of poets who are striving with him. Still, in response to its hits, the mouth laughs. As Whitman, and Sandburg, carrying him on, hit again and again, the mouth of America matches their hits with laughter. In the last line, the tense switches to the fist “pounding” and the mouth “answering”; some progress has been made.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Carl Sandburg & Whitman: the American Body

  1. AVZ says:

    You should quote the poem in full (for the benefit of outside readers)!

Comments are closed.