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Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Manitoba Childe Roland


              1LAST night a January wind was ripping at the shingles
      over our house and whistling a wolf song under the
      eaves.

              2I sat in a leather rocker and read to a six-year-old girl
      the Browning poem, Childe Roland to the Dark
      Tower Came.

              3And her eyes had the haze of autumn hills and it was
      beautiful to her and she could not understand.

              4A man is crossing a big prairie, says the poem, and
      nothing happens--and he goes on and on--and it's
      all lonesome and empty and nobody home.

              5And he goes on and on--and nothing happens--and he
      comes on a horse's skull, dry bones of a dead horse--
      and you know more than ever it's all lonesome and
      empty and nobody home.

              6And the man raises a horn to his lips and blows--he
      fixes a proud neck and forehead toward the empty
      sky and the empty land--and blows one last wonder-
      cry.

              7And as the shuttling automatic memory of man clicks
      off its results willy-nilly and inevitable as the snick
      of a mouse-trap or the trajectory of a 42-centimetre
      projectile,

              8I flash to the form of a man to his hips in snow drifts
      of Manitoba and Minnesota--in the sled derby run
      from Winnipeg to Minneapolis.

              9He is beaten in the race the first day out of Winnipeg--
      the lead dog is eaten by four team mates--and the
      man goes on and on--running while the other racers
      ride, running while the other racers sleep--

            10Lost in a blizzard twenty-four hours, repeating a circle
      of travel hour after hour--fighting the dogs who
      dig holes in the snow and whimper for sleep--
      pushing on--running and walking five hundred
      miles to the end of the race--almost a winner--one
      toe frozen, feet blistered and frost-bitten.

            11And I know why a thousand young men of the North-
      west meet him in the finishing miles and yell cheers
      --I know why judges of the race call him a winner
      and give him a special prize even though he is a
      loser.

            12I know he kept under his shirt and around his thudding
      heart amid the blizzards of five hundred miles that
      one last wonder-cry of Childe Roland--and I told
      the six year old girl about it.

            13And while the January wind was ripping at the shingles
      and whistling a wolf song under the eaves, her eyes
      had the haze of autumn hills and it was beautiful
      to her and she could not understand.

Notes

2] A poem by Robert Browning.

7] snick: click (onomatopoeic).

8] sled derby: dog-sled race.


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, Cornhuskers (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1918), pp. 38-39. PS 3537 A618C6 1918 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1918
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/7

Form: Free Verse


Other poems by Carl Sandburg