The poets and the World War: "Killers" by Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) 
Although he never took part to WWI, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) presents in his War Poems the cruelty and foolishness of the Great War in a vivid way. He tells, soft and terrible, things, as a man speaking with or singing to a dead child. The 11 War Poems were composed between 1914 and 1915, and  appeared in 1916 in Sandburg's first book (The Chicago poems), which inaugurated his career as one of the most important American poets of the XX century.
It is true that all wars are somehow similar to each other and Sandburg reshaped maybe his own short experience, as in 1898 he volunteered for service for the Spanish-American war and spent few months in Puerto Rico. Yes, all wars are somehow similar to each other - they all make men killers and victims at the same time, they all send their "shining teeth, sharp eyes, hard legs" in the trenches "eating and drinking, toiling", and dying, they all let "red juice" soak "the dark soil", "the green grass" - and yet they all are unique. Unique, as each tragedy is. So it's poetry, revealing the oneness in what is always repeating. Yet it still seems astonishing how Sandburg depicted the WWI in Killers and precognized at the beginning of the conflict even that number: 16 millions. A number, and much more: 16 millions.


    I am singing to you
Soft as a man with a dead child speaks;
Hard as a man in handcuffs,
Held where he cannot move:

     Under the sun
Are sixteen million men,
Chosen for shining teeth,
Sharp eyes, hard legs,
And a running of young warm blood in their wrists.

     And a red juice runs on the green grass;
And a red juice soaks the dark soil.
And the sixteen million are killing. . . and killing and killing.

     I never forget them day or night:
They beat on my head for memory of them;
They pound on my heart and I cry back to them,
To their homes and women, dreams and games.

     I wake in the night and smell the trenches,
And hear the low stir of sleepers in lines--
Sixteen million sleepers and pickets in the dark:
Some of them long sleepers for always,

Some of them tumbling to sleep to-morrow for always,
Fixed in the drag of the world's heartbreak,
Eating and drinking, toiling. . . on a long job of killing.
Sixteen million men.