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

carlsandburg
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. Follow him on Twitter.