Understanding Carl Sandberg’s “Killers”
A poem or any piece of literature may perhaps be better understood if one gets to know its writer or maker in a deeper light. Getting to know them better would perhaps shed some light on their thoughts and feelings based on their experiences.
Carl Sandberg’s poem, “Killers” may be even better understood if one gets to know him better. Popularly known these days as a poet, writer, and a fold musician, Carl Sandberg, an American of Swedish descent was raised by parents who instilled the importance and value of hard work and education in pursuit of their dreams. His adventures led him to different places which possibly enhanced his creativity as a writer.
Part of his adventures led him to Puerto Rico where he was enlisted as a volunteer in the Spanish-American war. Although he only spent about two months in the war infested country, his experiences there may have had a terrible impact on the then young Sandberg. Further, scientific studies would suffice that wars, being part of it or just being caught in it, have traumatic effects on people. Some people who experience war may even have post-traumatic stress disorders as a result of their experiences from wars.
Wars certainly have distressing, hurtful effects on people. In Carl Sandberg’s poem “Killers,” he vividly describes how men are turned into innocent victim of wars; how their bravery may only perhaps be a façade to the terrible fate that may await them; how their youth and their strength are exploited by their supposed duty for country, a duty which makes their blood race for patriotism. These young men leave the comforts of their home and families not perfectly sure of what awaits them at the other side; only equipped with thoughts of those who went before them who have seen firsthand and experiences the turmoil of war.
Carl Sandberg’s poem also speaks about how wars harden men; how their experiences may perhaps make them stoic to human emotions, rather they focus on killing and defeating the enemy, killing and defeating most of these men in the process. The author also describes how his senses deceive him even after the war as he smells the stench, not only of dead bodies but also of the fear and uncertainty of the young warriors. Fear and uncertainty to what tomorrow may bring; tomorrows greeted by what they have to do yet are actually afraid to do – kill even more.
“Killers” is even made more dramatic, more felt even, by Carl Sandberg’s contemporary writing style. His rugged, nonconformist style of writing free verse about a topic which a lot of people can relate to may be a source of criticism to a lot of literary critics during his time but have also won the hearts of many. In many ways, the eccentric way in which “Killers” was written made it more popular to the masses; it helped readers better understand the strains that wars put upon those who go to war. The uneven lines and his disregard for rhythmic syllabication made the poem less intimidating to a lot of people.
Part of Carl Sandberg’s unorthodox free verse is the lack of an established definitive pattern. Syllabicating the words per line of each of the poem’s six stanzas would clearly manifest the lack of a consistent syllabicating pattern. Despite this, one cannot attest, however, that the poem lacks the rhythm that builds up each line to next, allowing readers to steadily build-up the needed emotions for the poem and the message it wishes to evoke.
Carl Sandburg’s voluntary stint landed him to college even without a high school diploma, although he left Lombard College without a college degree, his stay in the institution equipped him with sufficient interest and passion for writing poetry. The same passion was fueled by his favorite writers who provided him enough inspiration and a cornucopia of writing styles that eventually led to his own style. His passion was further fortified by his experiences as writer and lecturer, his love for reading and his thirst for adventure. His lack of formal writing education may perhaps explain why his works, “Killers” in particular does not conform to supposed poetic standards, and is, just like most of his work, contemporary, unorthodox, even rough in many ways.
The once recognizable and strict structure in poetry writing is also unapparent in the poem “Killers”. Although the stanzas are still separated into lines in a page, Carl Sandburg’s poem is more flexible, even employing a contemporary presentation of words designed to emphasize, stress or anticipate the coming of the next lines and evoke more intense emotion from the readers. The poem in focus may not have regular rhymes and metric stanzas with established rhythms, yet it still becomes “melodic” through the rhythmic combination of the words that Carl Sandburg used and how he strung then arranged these words together.
Throughout Carl Sandburg’s “Killers,” one can notice the dramatic poetic diction that emphasizes the underlying meaning of the words used and also the result of the combination of these words. Rather than using rhetorical devices to describe the effects of war, Carl Sandburg directly presented the ill consequences of war and how he experienced these firsthand, further signified by the tone of his work.
Because of the direct appeal that Carl Sandburg’s “Killers” has on people, it may be considered narrative poetry but not in the strictest sense. It’s theme and how the theme was vividly described by the writer, it’s form which is both unorthodox and jagged; and its timeless appeal makes it a thought provoking and endearing work of art.