Carl Sandburg

(6 January 1878 – 22 July 1967 / Illinois)

Nigger


I am the nigger.
Singer of songs,
Dancer…
Softer than fluff of cotton…
Harder than dark earth
Roads beaten in the sun
By the bare feet of slaves…
Foam of teeth … breaking crash of laughter…
Red love of the blood of woman,
White love of the tumbling pickaninnies…
Lazy love of the banjo thrum…
Sweated and driven for the harvest-wage,
Loud laugher with hands like hams,
Fists toughened on the handles,
Smiling the slumber dreams of old jungles,
Crazy as the sun and dew and dripping, heaving life of the jungle,
Brooding and muttering with memories of shackles:
I am the nigger.
Look at me.
I am the nigger.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Rose Gillum (9/24/2012 2:50:00 PM)

    I told this poem at my local KKK meeting, afterwards we had a good old fashioned fag drag. Had a wonderful time, this is a lovely poem! [3 (Report) Reply

  • Tim O'brosnahan (5/28/2009 9:17:00 AM)

    During the Chicago race riots of 1919, Carl Sandburg became a voice for the black community and wrote an article that was on the front cover of the Chicago paper he wrote for. This article inflamed many whites because he wrote more of the truth than other biased writers. His love of people of diverse races and ethnic backgrounds is well documented in many of his poems.

    In Nigger, he writes of ther inner strength and the proudness of blacks in America. Quite possibly his enormous studies and writings of Abraham Lincoln gave him more insight than the average man, both black and white, but his gentleness in writing this poem ends with a sharpness of memory for a time that was one of the darkest for our country. (Report) Reply

  • Jane Moon (5/15/2009 12:50:00 PM)

    Sandburg's compassion and respect for the common man shows here in the many dimensions of hard work, love, music, joy, enjoyment of family and life, memories from past life in freedom before slavery (Africa) and hardships of slavery, up to the current day. The 'nigger' here is a word of respect and friendship. He is a man to be admired and accepted just like anyone else. (Report) Reply

  • Lewis Colyar (5/10/2007 1:18:00 AM)

    Carl Sandburg had a great deal of compassion for the African American people.
    He was one Langston Hughes favorite poets. In this poem he is speaking of
    the African-American hardship that he is seeing. He is not using the N word in the manner to demean. Rather he is writing how we are/ were disenfranchied. Walt Whitman also wrote with the same passion.

    Langston hughes poetry Society of Pittsburgh (Report) Reply

  • Zandra Faulks (6/25/2006 9:46:00 AM)

    I enjoy Sandberg's poetry, but I never know how to take this one. I do not know enough about his life or what his politics or social perspective was to understand if his use of 'nigger' and pickaninnies' was for effect or a betrayal of personal racism. Anybody? (Report) Reply

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