Carl Sandburg Quotes to Celebrate His Birthday

Posted January 06, 2012 by Denise Gangnes

"Life is like an onion: you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep."  Most of us are familiar with this famous quote, but did you know it is attributed to the American poet, Carl Sandburg?  We celebrate this brilliant writer's 134th birthday this week, on January 6, which gives us a chance to reflect on his many timeless quotes that have become engrained into the fabric of American conversation and literary history.

Born in the Midwest, birthplace of many prolific authors, Sandburg won three Pulitzer Prizes for his writing, including one for a comprehensive biography of Abraham Lincoln.  Fitting that a man born in the "Land of Lincoln" would spend years documenting his life.  Much of Sandburg's writing has been condensed into memorable quotes that we hear in everyday life. The lyrical Carl Sandburg quote, "The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on," is actually taken from the famous poem, Fog, part of his Chicago Poems collection published in 1916.

Sandburg's experiences traveling the country and working menial jobs built a strong sense of character that inspired many meritorious Carl Sandburg quotes.  This accomplished author quit school when he was barely a teenager and spent the next 10 years shining shoes, delivering milk, laying bricks, working on farms, and eventually, finishing college and serving as a solider in the Spanish-American war.  Perhaps the latter prompted his Sandburg quote, "Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come."

His meager travels as a hobo forged observations of life from a unique perspective, providing practical advice that readers would be wise to heed.  For example, the subtle message of the quote, "The secret of happiness is to admire without desiring" offers a perspective that many of us should adopt; suggesting that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

In addition to wisdom, Sandburg was blessed with abundant wit and the ability not to take himself too seriously, as reflected by his quote, "There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud."  His self-deprecating humor, balanced with beautiful prose, explains how he became one of our most beloved American treasures.  Another Carl Sandburg quote, "I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life, and as soon as I done it I seen it," is an amusing observation that elicits a chuckle from even the most stoic reader.

Sandburg's legacy lives on in numerous schools and institutions that bear his name.  From Washington State to Virginia, his name is engraved on plaques in front of libraries, office buildings and educational facilities.  In Pennsylvania, Sandburg Middle School proudly displays a split tree trunk engraved with another inspirational Carl Sandburg quote, "Man is born with rainbows in his heart and you'll never read him unless you consider rainbows."  Yet another famous quote that has been inscribed on many school buildings bearing Sandberg's moniker is the simple thought "Nothing happens unless first we dream."

So whether your library contains a book of Sandberg's poems, you've passed by a building bearing his name, studied his writings in school, or have unwittingly uttered one of his famous quotes, be thankful that this immensely talented poet graced this earth for 92 years.  His beautiful prose lights our world and inspires us all to look at our world in a more gentle light.  In the end, he left us with this haunting quote, "A book is never a masterpiece: it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man."  Carl, you were indeed both a genius and a masterpiece.

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