Questionnaire Summary and Analysis by Carl Sandburg: 2022

Carl Sandburg- Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878. His parents, August and Clara Johnson, had emigrated to America from the north of Sweden. In the twenties, he started some of his most ambitious projects, his study of Abraham Lincoln, Carl’s collections of American folklore, the ballads in The American Songbag and The New American Songbag (1950) and books for children. He produced thousands of magnificent poems and stories in the following years. Carl received a second Pulitzer Prize for his Complete Poems in 1950.
Questionnaire- “Questionnaire” by Carl Sandburg was written and published in 1918 under the volume Cornhuskers. Questionnaire is one of his autobiographical composition, a gentle, lyrical evocation of the questions a man asks to himself and the world, the questions the society asks to a man in supposedly superior position and the answers to these questions assumed by the society itself.

Setting of Questionnaire-

As indicated through the title, the poem is set in a series of one line questions or two inter-related questions connected with “and” and “or”. Questionnaire is a free verse composed of 1 stanza and 8 lines, asking 8 questions, though, the answers to these questions are not given by the author. The start of every question from the word “Have” suggests two things, first- the author might be asking these questions to himself after being plagued by self-doubt regarding his generosity, second- the questions are being composed in a certain manner to make the audience realise that their doubts regarding the author’s humbleness and generosity are moot when viewed in account of his past deeds.

Poetic Devices in Questionnaire-

The poem has been written in free verse, does not contain any rhyme scheme and does not use any consistent musical or meter patterns. It follows the rhythm of natural speech.

Summary of Questionnaire-

Written in free verse, adhering to most works of Carl Sandburg, “Questionnaire” is a single stanza poem consisting of 8 lines summing up a total of 8 questions. The questions being asked by the author remain unanswered and we do not know for sure if these questions are the result of self-doubt or the loss of public confidence, the lost confidence of the readers on their author. The author asks if he has ever told any man to lie for his selfish gain, he asks whether he has aided the already privileged or the poor in need. The narrator further asks if he has taken too much time of a man with his talk or if he has made a man take “a snootful of booze”, forcing him to participate in his celebrations. The notion of self-doubt is further highlighted when the author asks if he has been a bad listener, if his own stubbornness has made him overlook his own good and others’ good intentions towards him. He asks if he has taken the money belonging rightly to the living and unborn while spending his time giving speeches of vengeance relying on dishonest claims. The last question being asked from the point of view of a celebrity figure, the author asks lastly if he has ever done good for his own sake and not just with the purpose of gaining fame.

Critical Analysis of Questionnaire-

Questionnaire was published in the volume “Cornhuskers” (1918) which is a celebration of the prairie, the agrarian life, the people living such a life, it includes some autobiographical poems, many gentle, lyrical evocations of his family life and the poignant portraits of American working men and women. “Questionnaire” is a skillful and a brilliant composition, its magnificence lying in the manner in which the questions are being asked. The start of all 8 questions with “Have” gives the impression of the evoking self-doubt in the author or the loss of existing public confidence regarding the author. Based on these situations, the poem might be read as a series of questions the author asks himself when plagued by conscience crisis or as a plea from the poet to his audience to question the integrity of the doubts themselves based on the poet’s actions, respectively. Under both of these circumstances, the questions that remain unanswered, question the integrity, generosity, indulgence, humbleness and modesty of a celebrity figure (here the author himself).

Tone of Questionnaire-

The poem has been written in free verse, the tone is kept simple, though the intensity of the questions asked and poignancy of all they represent lies in the vivid description, “for the sake of daughters who nursed brindle bull terriers….their dogs clothed in plaid wool jackets?”  The 8 lines poem asking 8 questions is successful in making the audience question their integrity and leaving them with a wish to know the author themselves.
Conclusion- The critical reception of Cornhuskers (along with the poems included in the volume) was mixed, ranging from the view that Sandburg was in the front rank of American poets to the opinion that his outspoken idealism prevented him from being a poet at all. Nonetheless, the notions of simplicity and relatable reality make up the magnificence of “Questionnaire”. The poem coaxes its readers to not only discover more about the brilliant author but also to look into the mirror themselves, questioning their idea of generosity and humbleness.

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