Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Poet and the Revolver

An apparently unpublished and previously unknown poem by Carl Sandburg that addresses the topic
of guns has been discovered at the University of Illinois Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  The
poem, typed on a manual typewriter on onionskin paper, was discovered by a library volunteer. 
Photo by Ben Woloszyn.
Part eerie coincidence, part voice from the grave.  It is one of those unexpected confluences of events that hints, to those so inclined, of divine intervention--or at the very least a divine nudge.

Touching on an issue straight out of today's headlines, an apparently unpublished poem on the subject of guns by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author Carl Sandburg was
discovered almost a month to the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.  Discovered among Sandburg's archives housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the discovery of the thought-provoking "A Revolver" (full text below) occurred as the gun control debate inspired by the shootings raged on. 

In addition to being "an amazing find" for scholars (in the words of Kathryn Benzel, a Sandburg scholar and Martin Distinguished Professor in English at the University of Nebraska at Kearney), "A Revolver" is remarkable in the timing of its discovery and the gun issues it raises“It’s just amazing how something written way back then is relevant today," said Ernie Gullerud, the retired U of I professor and library volunteer who made the discovery

The poem provides no answers in the gun-control debate, of course--but it does raise some profoundly legitimate questions.  “I think it’s so interesting that Sandburg says poetically what we all know about guns: that they are the final word,” said Valerie Hotchkiss, head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at U of I.   “But he takes the idea one step forward to meditate on the effect of guns on freedom of speech--how the First Amendment is watered down by the Second Amendment. If somebody has a gun to your head, you can’t speak freely.”  Are other rights in play here (due process for example)?  Are the rights afforded by one part of the Constitution absolute, or are they necessarily limited in their scope by the existence of others
Are we doomed to repeat the history we don't understand?

Previously Unknown Sandburg Poem Focuses on Power of the Gun
by Dusty Rhodes, Arts & Humanities Editor, University of Illinois News Bureau; reprinted at

Works by and about Carl Sandburg and available through TWU Libraries

~Sandy Cochran

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