Newly Discovered Carl Sandburg Poem About Guns Feels Strangely Topical

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 23 2013 5:08 PM

Newly Discovered Carl Sandburg Poem About Guns Feels Strangely Topical

Carl Sandburg in 1955

Al Ravenna/Library of Congress

At some unknown point before he died, Carl Sandburg, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet probably best known for calling Chicago a “city of broad shoulders,” sat down at his typewriter and wrote that “nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the old belief that God is always on the side of those who have the most revolvers.”

It was the last line of a short poem called “A Revolver,” which was apparently never published, and went undiscovered for decades until a retired professor and volunteer at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found it languishing there. The 83-year-old volunteer, Ernie Gullerud, was working on a project to make the first and last line of all of Sandburg’s poems searchable online.

Sandburg scholars said there was little doubt the poem was, in fact, written by the poet, who died in 1967 at the age of 89. “This has all the marks of a Sandburg poem on it,” Valerie Hotchkiss says. “This is clearly written on Carl Sandburg’s dreadful onionskin typewriter paper.” 


“Here is a revolver,” the poem opens. “A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.” You can read the rest of the poem, and see that dreadful onionskin typewriter paper, at the University of Illinois website.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

It’s Fine to Use Facebook to Serve People With Legal Papers, Court Rules

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?