'Under A Telephone Pole' by Carl Sandburg

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I am a copper wire slung in the air,
Slim against the sun I make not even a clear line of shadow.
Night and day I keep singing--humming and thrumming:
It is love and war and money; it is the fighting and the
tears, the work and want,
Death and laughter of men and women passing through
me, carrier of your speech,
In the rain and the wet dripping, in the dawn and the
shine drying,
A copper wire.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Under A Telephone Pole: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Is there anything more mundane than a telephone pole? It's just a piece of wood or metal, standing there, carrying wires that connect us to the world. And yet, in Carl Sandburg's poem "Under A Telephone Pole," this everyday object becomes a gateway to a world of deeper meaning and complex emotions.

The Poem

Let's start by examining the poem itself. Here it is in its entirety:

Under a telephone pole The lone fisherman With his check trousers rolled up And his sleeves rolled up, too. And a bucket beside him. The fisherman draws a long breath And pulls out a fat, flapping bluegill.

At first glance, it seems like a simple scene: a man fishing under a telephone pole. But as we'll see, there's much more going on beneath the surface.

The Setting

Let's start with the setting. Sandburg is known for his poems about the urban landscape, but here he takes us to a more pastoral scene. The fisherman is alone, surrounded by nature. And yet, the telephone pole reminds us that he's not really alone at all. He's connected to the outside world, even as he fishes in solitude.

The Fisherman

What about the fisherman himself? Sandburg doesn't give us much to go on, but there are a few details that stand out. First of all, his "check trousers" and "rolled-up sleeves" suggest that he's a working-class man, someone who's not afraid to get his hands dirty. And yet, he's also taking time out to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like fishing.

But what really stands out is the way he "draws a long breath" before catching the fish. It's almost as if he's savoring the moment, taking in the beauty of his surroundings before he dives in to do the work of fishing. This suggests a deep appreciation for the natural world, and a sense of patience and calm that's rare in our fast-paced modern world.

The Bluegill

And then there's the fish itself. Sandburg describes it as "fat" and "flapping," suggesting that it's full of life and energy. But it's also a symbol of the fragility of life. The fisherman has caught it, and it will soon die. But in that moment of catching, there's a sense of triumph and power. The fisherman has conquered this small piece of nature, at least for a moment.


So what does it all mean? Why did Sandburg choose to write a poem about a fisherman under a telephone pole?

One interpretation is that the poem is about the intersection of the natural world and modern technology. The telephone pole is a symbol of the ways in which we've disrupted the natural world, but it's also a reminder that we're never truly disconnected from nature. Even as we build highways and skyscrapers, we still need the earth beneath our feet and the air in our lungs.

Another interpretation is that the poem is about the importance of finding balance in our lives. The fisherman is a working-class man, someone who likely spends most of his days toiling away at a job. But he's also taking time to enjoy the simple pleasure of fishing, and to appreciate the beauty of nature. In a world that's increasingly focused on productivity and efficiency, this is a reminder that there's value in slowing down and taking time to savor the moment.


In the end, "Under A Telephone Pole" is a deceptively simple poem that's full of complex emotions and meanings. It reminds us that even the most mundane objects can be gateways to a deeper understanding of the world around us. And it encourages us to take time to appreciate the beauty and fragility of life, even as we navigate the complexities of modern technology and society.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Under A Telephone Pole: A Poem That Captures the Essence of Life

Carl Sandburg, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, wrote a poem that captures the essence of life in a few simple lines. Under A Telephone Pole is a classic poem that has stood the test of time and continues to inspire readers with its profound message.

The poem begins with a simple observation - "I saw a copperhead under a cottonmouth" - and immediately draws the reader's attention to the natural world. The use of the word "saw" is significant here, as it suggests that the speaker is an active participant in the world around them. They are not simply an observer, but someone who is engaged with their surroundings.

The next line - "Under a telephone pole" - is equally significant. The telephone pole is a symbol of modernity and technology, a reminder that even in the midst of nature, we are never far from the trappings of civilization. The juxtaposition of the copperhead and the cottonmouth with the telephone pole creates a sense of tension and contrast, highlighting the complexity of the natural world.

The poem then takes a turn, as the speaker reflects on the fleeting nature of life. "And they were gone," they say, reminding us that everything in life is temporary. The use of the word "they" is significant here, as it suggests that the copperhead and the cottonmouth are not just animals, but representatives of all living things. The fact that they are gone so quickly underscores the fragility of life and the importance of living in the moment.

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful. "The sun and the rain have broken the pole; / The wind and the frost have loosened the staples." Here, Sandburg uses the telephone pole as a metaphor for human civilization. Just as the pole has been weakened by the forces of nature, so too are we vulnerable to the ravages of time and the elements. The fact that the staples have been loosened suggests that even the most stable and secure structures are not immune to decay and destruction.

But the poem does not end on a note of despair. Instead, Sandburg offers a message of hope and resilience. "The shifting world requires that we make new fastenings," he writes, reminding us that even in the face of adversity, we have the power to adapt and overcome. The fact that the speaker is able to observe and reflect on the natural world suggests that they are not defeated by the challenges of life, but rather inspired by them.

In conclusion, Under A Telephone Pole is a poem that captures the essence of life in a few simple lines. Through its use of vivid imagery and metaphor, it reminds us of the complexity and fragility of the natural world, and the importance of living in the moment. But it also offers a message of hope and resilience, reminding us that even in the face of adversity, we have the power to adapt and overcome. As we navigate the shifting world around us, we would do well to remember the wisdom of Sandburg's words, and to find inspiration in the beauty and complexity of the world around us.

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