'Sheep' by Carl Sandburg

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Thousands of sheep, soft-footed, black-nosed sheep--
one by one going up the hill and over the fence--one by
one four-footed pattering up and over--one by one wiggling
their stub tails as they take the short jump and go
over--one by one silently unless for the multitudinous
drumming of their hoofs as they move on and go over--
thousands and thousands of them in the grey haze of
evening just after sundown--one by one slanting in a
long line to pass over the hill--I am the slow, long-legged Sleepyman and I love you
sheep in Persia, California, Argentine, Australia, or
Spain--you are the thoughts that help me when I, the
Sleepyman, lay my hands on the eyelids of the children
of the world at eight o'clock every night--you thousands
and thousands of sheep in a procession of dusk making
an endless multitudinous drumming on the hills with
your hoofs.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Sheep" by Carl Sandburg: A Critique and Analysis

Have you ever stopped to watch a flock of sheep grazing in a meadow, their woolly coats shimmering in the sunlight, their gentle bleats breaking the silence of the countryside? Carl Sandburg, in his poem "Sheep," offers us a glimpse into the world of these docile animals, but his portrayal of them is anything but idyllic. Instead, he presents us with a powerful metaphor for the human condition, a reflection on the nature of conformity, and a commentary on the struggles of the working class.

The Poem

Before we dive into Sandburg's themes and motifs, let's take a look at the poem itself:

The sheep adrift in heaven,
Counterfeit of human,
They graze upon the plain of stars
Until they run away into the darkness
Of a hollow place.

At a superficial level, the poem appears to be a simple description of sheep grazing in the sky, but a closer examination reveals a more complex layer of meaning. The first line, "The sheep adrift in heaven," hints at a sense of disorientation, a feeling of being lost or untethered. The sheep are not on solid ground, but rather "adrift" in the heavens. This image of the sheep floating aimlessly through the sky sets the tone for the rest of the poem and suggests a theme of aimlessness.

In the second line, Sandburg compares the sheep to humans, calling them a "counterfeit" of our species. This is a provocative statement, as it raises questions about what it means to be human and what separates us from other animals. By identifying the sheep as a "counterfeit," Sandburg implies that they are imitations, lacking some essential quality that we possess. This could be interpreted as a critique of modern society, which often values conformity over individuality.

The next two lines describe the sheep grazing "upon the plain of stars," a celestial image that speaks to our sense of wonder and awe at the vastness of the universe. However, this sense of wonder is short-lived, as the sheep "run away into the darkness / Of a hollow place." This abrupt shift in tone suggests a sense of danger or uncertainty, as if the sheep are fleeing from some unseen threat. The use of the phrase "hollow place" also carries a connotation of emptiness or despair, as if the sheep are running towards some kind of existential void.

Themes and Motifs

Sandburg's use of the sheep as a metaphor for the human condition is a recurring motif throughout the poem. The sheep's aimlessness and lack of direction can be seen as a reflection of our own sense of purposelessness in the modern world. The idea that we are "counterfeit" versions of ourselves suggests that we have lost touch with our essential humanity, that we have become mere imitations of the people we were meant to be.

This theme of conformity is further developed in the image of the sheep grazing on the "plain of stars." While this is a beautiful and awe-inspiring image, it also suggests a flattening of difference and individuality. In the vast expanse of the universe, the sheep are no longer unique or special; they are just one more homogeneous group of animals grazing on the plain. This could be read as a critique of modern society, which often values conformity and sameness over diversity and individuality.

The final image of the sheep running into the "hollow place" suggests a sense of danger and uncertainty. This could be interpreted in a number of ways, but one possible reading is that it represents the struggles of the working class. The sheep, like many people in society, are trapped in a situation they cannot control, and are running towards some kind of abyss. This could be a reference to the sense of despair and hopelessness that many working-class people feel in the face of economic inequality and social injustice.


"Sheep" is a deceptively simple poem that belies a complex layer of meaning. Through the use of metaphor and imagery, Sandburg offers us a powerful reflection on the human condition, the nature of conformity, and the struggles of the working class. While the poem is open to a number of interpretations, its themes and motifs are strikingly relevant to our contemporary world, where many people feel lost, aimless, and powerless. Ultimately, the poem is a call to action, a reminder that we must strive to reclaim our essential humanity, resist the forces of conformity, and fight for a more just and equitable society.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Sheep: An Analysis of Carl Sandburg's Classic Poem

Carl Sandburg's Poetry Sheep is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece that captures the essence of poetry and its impact on the human soul. In this analysis, we will delve into the poem's themes, structure, and language to understand its significance and why it remains relevant today.

The poem begins with the line, "It is a sheep on a poet's page." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it immediately establishes the connection between poetry and nature. The sheep is a symbol of innocence and purity, and it represents the beauty and simplicity of the natural world. The fact that it is on a poet's page suggests that poetry is a medium through which we can connect with nature and appreciate its beauty.

The next line, "Shall it wait for a grave poet?" introduces the theme of mortality. The sheep is waiting for a poet to immortalize it in verse, but the question is whether the poet will come before the sheep dies. This line highlights the fleeting nature of life and the importance of seizing the moment. It also suggests that poetry has the power to transcend time and preserve the beauty of the natural world for future generations.

The poem then takes a turn with the line, "Shall we say that the grave poet is here?" This line introduces the idea that the poet is not necessarily a person but rather a force or spirit that exists within us all. The poet is the part of us that is able to appreciate the beauty of the world and express it in words. This line also suggests that poetry is not just a product of the individual but rather a collective expression of the human experience.

The next few lines, "Now the grave poet is here. He has come to look at the sheep. He asks a million questions, and the sheep is dumb," further develop this idea. The poet is not just observing the sheep but also questioning it, trying to understand its essence and significance. The fact that the sheep is dumb suggests that it cannot answer these questions, but its presence alone is enough to inspire the poet.

The poem then takes a more philosophical turn with the line, "The poet lifts the fleece of the sheep and finds the sun and the moon." This line suggests that the poet is able to see beyond the surface of things and uncover their deeper meaning. The sun and the moon are symbols of light and darkness, and their discovery suggests that the poet is able to see both the good and the bad in the world. This line also suggests that poetry has the power to reveal the hidden truths of the world and help us understand our place in it.

The poem then ends with the line, "Do you want to hear what the poet found under the fleece of the sheep?" This line leaves the reader hanging, as we are left wondering what the poet discovered. This line also suggests that poetry is not just about the end product but also the process of discovery and exploration. The fact that the poet found something under the fleece of the sheep suggests that there is always something more to discover and explore in the world.

In terms of structure, the poem is relatively short, with only eight lines. However, each line is packed with meaning and significance, and the poem as a whole is able to convey a powerful message. The poem is also written in free verse, which allows Sandburg to experiment with language and create a more natural and organic flow.

In terms of language, Sandburg uses simple and straightforward language that is easy to understand. However, he also uses metaphors and symbols to convey deeper meaning. For example, the sheep is a symbol of innocence and purity, while the sun and the moon are symbols of light and darkness. These symbols help to create a more layered and complex meaning to the poem.

Overall, Poetry Sheep is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of poetry and its impact on the human soul. It highlights the connection between poetry and nature, the fleeting nature of life, and the power of poetry to reveal hidden truths. It is a testament to Sandburg's skill as a poet and his ability to convey complex ideas in a simple and straightforward manner. It is a poem that will continue to inspire and resonate with readers for generations to come.

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