Pool Summary and Analysis by Carl Sandburg: 2022

Carl Sandburg- A winner of three Pulitzer prizes, Carl Sandburg was born to parents of Swedish ancestry in Galesburg, Illinois.  The American poet quit school following his graduation from the eighth grade in 1891 and went on to try his hand at variety of jobs. He then quit the jobs and travelled alone, during which he came in contact with folk songs. It was his college years that shaped Sandburg’s literary talents and political view, under the close watch of Lombard professor Phillip Green Wright. The latter was his mentor who honed Sandburg’s writing skills and inculcated the socialist views into his life. After marrying Lillian Steichen, Sandburg returned to Illinois and started working for the Chicago Times as a reporter. Known for his Rutabaga Stories (1922), a children’s book, Sandburg received his Pulitzer prizes; two for his poetry collections and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln respectively.

Setting of Pool- 

For Carl Sandburg, “poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance”. The call of this echo can be clearly heard in his poem Pool. Sandburg had a first-hand experience of war and those morbid times are mostly reflected in his poems. Though during first reference one may find the setting of the poem to be somewhere near a house with a pool, looking at it from a wider horizon gives us the impression of a war torn land. A land blazed with flames of fire and men charred into ashes in that inferno. War is the shadow in this poem, which dances above the ashes of dead men.

Poetic Devices in Pool-

Line 7: “Stiff pool” – The pool is anything but stiff. Poet uses the term “stiff” instead of “still”, which makes the very character of pool contradicting.
Line 1: “Out of the fire” – here the fire is the war that is raging to its full swing, creating as much causality as possible in the battlefield.
Line 2 – 3: “Came a man sunken, to less than cinders” – the soldier has become the victim of war and there isn’t any part of his mortal remains left. Even the burning cinder would leave a better residue.
Line 4: “A tea-cup of ashes or so” – The only remains available are a lump of ashes. A man is destroyed completely in war. His fate is worse than that of a log-wood.
Line 6: “The gold in the house” – the people at home are as safe as gold that is being treasured.
Line 7: “Writhed into a stiff pool” – a stagnant pool of unwanted and painful memories that inflicts pain every now and then.
The seven-line single stanza poem is a free verse with no particular rhyme or meter to be defined as a distinctive quality. Sandburg’s style of this poem is a typical free verse with very simple, short lines and a dominating theme of war. The poem is donned with picturesque images of war-front. The words used are simple while the symbols are finite and strong.

Summary of Pool- 

The poem begins with a crisp image of a man engulfed by the fire, coming out of it in the form of “a tea-cup of ashes or so”. War was a part of every American youth’s life then and the volunteers from every other home was considered to be the honour and wealth of the family. But the war zone is entirely different from the safe dwelling of home. In war one is destined with a fate even worse than that of a log-wood burning in the chamber, being face-to-face with death every day and yet not being able to be sure when one’s final call shall arrive. And when it does arrive, will one even have his mortal remains left to be sent back home. The soldier is reduced to a lump of ashes and witnessing all these war horrors alive was a torture in itself. Especially when one is no more a part of the comradeship and sitting in the safe leisure of home, watching terrible fate of his mates makes him writhe in a deep pool of guilt and pain. The value of a soldier’s life is questioned in these short lines of the verse.

Critical Analysis of Pool-

With a few words and a short stanza, Carl Sandburg indirectly points at the fate of the soldiers at war in the poem Pool.  The foreboding death is felt from the beginning. And even when not encountering with death, the torturous sensation that the poet had to live through during his military career touches the sore spot every now and then. The poet despises being safe at home like a treasure trove when other soldiers are at the war front. His nerves twitch at this thought and goes through a torturous flashback of war memories. In this stiff pool of memories the wounds are reopened repeatedly.

Tone of Pool-

The entire poem gives us a morbid sensation with the portrayal of a ghoulish war tale. Beginning with a dangerous encounter with fire, the poem comes to an end at a thick and refusing pool. There is not even a single instance of optimism or faint sliver of hope. The shroud of despair can be felt throughout with vivid images of war and loss.

Central Idea of Pool-

Pool is a war poem, reliving the devastating experience of wars and the scathing impression it makes in one’s life. Though the poet prefers peace, there isn’t a single line giving the reader a silver-lining of hope to face the war upfront. War is an ugly truth in a soldier’s life that he cannot run away from.
Conclusion- The aftermath of a war on a soldier’s life is very rigidly presented through the poem Pool by Carl Sandburg. There is finality in the tone and no scope for hope. The war front is a place where one can expect the unexpected and live with that sore wound, if one survives the inferno, for the rest of his life. There is no escaping from those nightmarish memories which shall pop-up every now and then. With a first-hand experience from the war zone, Sandburg reflects the deep inflicted wound through this poem. His pain is evident even in this short yet deep poem.

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