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Carl Sandburg

William Arthur Smith1961

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Perhaps no figure in American letters has ever identified himself more readily and affectionately with grassroots America than Carl Sandburg. From his poem "Chicago," hailing that city as "Hog Butcher to the World," to his efforts to preserve American folk music and his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, Sandburg seemed forever dedicated to enriching popular appreciation for his country's democratic experience. In the 1930s, as the Depression steadily eroded the optimism that had always been an underpinning of that experience, he concluded that what the public most needed from him now was a reminder of the country's resilient virtues. By 1936, he had completed The People, Yes, a long discourse in free verse admitting to America's failings but, more important, celebrating its overriding strengths. "A foreigner will find more of America" in it, one critic wrote, "than in any other book."

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