the sky and the sea
put on a show, every day
they put on a show
Adapted from Carl Sandburg’s, Thimble Islands, which was published in “Good morning, America” by New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1928.
In searching for the full text of this poem to copy and paste into this essay, I came across a 269 page document from the Office of Education in Washington, DC that had been written by the University of Oregon, titled The Whole Poem Teacher.
The document was identified as a Poetry: Literature Curriculum – Teacher’s Guide.
Printed in 1971, the first two paragraphs of the introduction state:
In the lessons preceding this one, your class has concentrated on various poetic techniques, isolating them more or less from the total fabric of the poem for the purposes of examination and identification. Such a process is necessary, but it is a rather sterile exercise if it stops there. For the goal of all this investigation has been not the ability to identify poetic devices, but to enjoy more fully the experience of reading a poem. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to “put back” all the isolated elements into the whole poem.
To borrow a useful distinction made by the poet:-critic John Ciardi, we want our students to be able to answer not only the question, “What does this poem mean?” but also the question, “How does this poem mean?” Answering the first question only leads to bad paraphrase and moral- abstracting. Answering the first question in terms of the second, on the other hand, leads to close and intelligent reading, to appreciation of the internal dynamics of the poem, and consequently to a far more sensitive perception of the poem’s “meaning.” For in poetry the way something is said is part of what is being said.
Wanting to avoid the introduction tearing out scene of Dead Poets Society, I think this is rather good as it does not impose a scale but plays on the readers interpretation.
“How does this poem mean?” and “… in poetry the way something is said is part of what is being said.” is good even as it brackets that oh so ponderous statement, “leads to close and intelligent reading, to appreciation of the internal dynamics of the poem, and consequently to a far more sensitive perception of the poem’s ‘meaning.‘”
The document was part of the Oregon Elementary English Project and according to the first line of the abstract, This curriculum guide is intended to introduce fifth and sixth grade children to the study of poetry.
Fifth and sixth grade children?
All I can say about that is to paraphrase the Book of Psalms, Lord Byron and Stephen Vincent Benét (all at the same time!), By the rivers of Babylon, There I sat down and wept, When I remembered Zion.
Here is the Sandburg poem:
The sky and the sea put on a show
Every day they put on a show
There are dawn dress rehearsals
There are sweet monotonous evening monologues
The acrobatic lights of sunsets dwindle and darken
The stars step out one by one with a bimbo, bimbo.
The red ball of the sun hung a balloon in the west.
And there was half a balloon, then no balloon at all,
And ten stars marched out and ten thousand more,
And the fathoms of the sky far over met the fathoms of the sea far
under, among the thimble islands
In the clear green water of dawn came a float of silver filaments, feelers
circling a pink polyp’s mouth.
The feelers ran out, opened and closed, opened and closed, hungry and
searching, soft and incessant, floating the salt sea inlets sucking the
green sea water as land roses suck the land air
Frozen rock humps, smooth fire-rock humps –
Thimbles on the thumbs of the wives of prostrate sunken
God only knows how many sleep in the slack of the
There in those places
under the sun balloons,
and fathoms, filaments, feelers –
The wind and the rain
sew the years
stitching one year into another