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Short poem

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)


              1THE Government--I heard about the Government and
     I went out to find it. I said I would look closely at
     it when I saw it.
              2Then I saw a policeman dragging a drunken man to
     the callaboose. It was the Government in action.
              3I saw a ward alderman slip into an office one morning
     and talk with a judge. Later in the day the judge
     dismissed a case against a pickpocket who was a
     live ward worker for the alderman. Again I saw
     this was the Government, doing things.
              4I saw militiamen level their rifles at a crowd of work-
     ingmen who were trying to get other workingmen
     to stay away from a shop where there was a strike
     on. Government in action.

              5Everywhere I saw that Government is a thing made of
     men, that Government has blood and bones, it is
     many mouths whispering into many ears, sending
     telegrams, aiming rifles, writing orders, saying
     "yes" and "no."

              6Government dies as the men who form it die and are laid
     away in their graves and the new Government that
     comes after is human, made of heartbeats of blood,
     ambitions, lusts, and money running through it all,
     money paid and money taken, and money covered
     up and spoken of with hushed voices.
              7A Government is just as secret and mysterious and sensi-
     tive as any human sinner carrying a load of germs,
     traditions and corpuscles handed down from
     fathers and mothers away back.


2] callaboose: jail (originally slangy New Orleans term).

3] ward alderman: elected representative to city council for a given electoral district.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Carl Sandburg, Chicago Poems (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1916), pp. 173-74. PS 3537 A618C5 1916 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1916
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/7

Form: Free Verse

Other poems by Carl Sandburg