'On The Way' by Carl Sandburg

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Little one, you have been buzzing in the books,
Flittering in the newspapers and drinking beer withlawyers
And amid the educated men of the clubs you have beengetting an earful of speech from trained tongues.
Take an earful from me once, go with me on a hike
Along sand stretches on the great inland sea here
And while the eastern breeze blows on us and therestless surge
Of the lake waves on the breakwater breaks with an everfresh monotone,
Let us ask ourselves: What is truth? what do you or Iknow?
How much do the wisest of the world's men know aboutwhere the massed human procession is going?You have heard the mob laughed at?
I ask you: Is not the mob rough as the mountains arerough?
And all things human rise from the mob and relapse andrise again as rain to the sea.

Editor 1 Interpretation

On The Way: A Literary Masterpiece by Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg, an American poet and author, is known for his captivating poetry that explores the complexity of human emotions and experiences. His work has been widely celebrated for its ability to evoke powerful imagery and connect with readers on a deeply personal level. One of his most famous poems, On The Way, is a prime example of his literary mastery. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbolism, structure, and language of On The Way.


On The Way was first published in 1916, during a time when America was undergoing significant changes. The country was experiencing rapid industrialization and urbanization, and people were grappling with the impact of these changes on their daily lives. Sandburg's On The Way provides a commentary on these changes, and reflects on the human experience of navigating through difficult times.

The poem is written in free verse, and consists of three stanzas of varying lengths. The first stanza sets the scene, describing a journey on a train. The second stanza explores the emotions and thoughts of the speaker, as they reflect on their life and the world around them. The final stanza brings the poem to a close, with a sense of acceptance and resignation.


On The Way explores several themes that are relevant to the context in which it was written. One of the most prominent themes is change, and the ways in which people react to it. The poem reflects on the rapid changes taking place in America at the time, and the impact that these changes were having on people's lives. The train journey serves as a metaphor for this process of change, with the speaker acknowledging that they are "on the way" to a new destination, whether they like it or not.

Another theme that emerges in the poem is a sense of isolation and loneliness. The speaker is surrounded by people, yet feels disconnected from them. This is evident in lines such as "Faces and darkness separate us over and over" and "I cannot keep your feet put for you." The speaker is acutely aware of their own individuality in a world that is rapidly becoming more homogenized.

Finally, the poem explores the idea of mortality and the inevitability of death. The train journey serves as a metaphor for the journey through life, with the speaker acknowledging that they will one day reach their final destination. This theme is particularly poignant in the final stanza, where the speaker accepts their fate and acknowledges that "life is a privilege and a challenge."


Throughout the poem, Sandburg uses symbolism to convey deeper meanings and emotions. One of the most significant symbols is the train itself. The train represents the passage of time and the inevitability of change. It is a powerful symbol of progress, but also of loss and separation.

Another symbol that appears in the poem is darkness. Darkness represents the unknown and the uncertain, and serves to heighten the sense of isolation and loneliness that the speaker feels. It also serves as a reminder of the darkness that awaits us all at the end of our journey.

Finally, the use of the second person pronoun "you" is a powerful symbol of the individuality of the speaker. It serves to emphasize the sense of disconnection that the speaker feels, as they struggle to find their place in a world that is rapidly changing.


On The Way is written in free verse, with no discernible rhyme or meter. The lack of structure serves to reinforce the sense of uncertainty and chaos that the speaker is experiencing. However, despite the lack of form, the poem still has a clear structure, with three distinct stanzas that each contribute to the overall meaning of the poem.

The use of enjambment throughout the poem serves to create a sense of movement, as if the train is constantly moving forward. This creates a sense of momentum that propels the poem forward, even as the speaker reflects on their own sense of inertia.


The language of On The Way is simple and straightforward, with few elaborate metaphors or poetic devices. This simplicity serves to highlight the profound emotions and ideas that the poem explores. The use of repetition throughout the poem, particularly in the second stanza, serves to reinforce the sense of isolation and loneliness that the speaker feels.

The use of imagery in the poem is also powerful, with Sandburg using vivid descriptions to create a sense of time and place. The description of the train is particularly evocative, with the speaker describing the "rattle of the wheels" and the "smoke and the stations." These details serve to create a sense of realism that draws the reader into the poem.


On The Way is a powerful poem that explores the complexities of the human experience. It reflects on the impact of change and the struggle to find a sense of identity in a rapidly evolving world. The poem also explores the inevitability of mortality and the importance of accepting the challenges of life.

Overall, On The Way is a literary masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes and symbolism remain relevant, even a century after it was first published. Sandburg's use of language and structure serve to create a powerful and unforgettable poem that will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry On The Way: A Masterpiece of Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, wrote a masterpiece called "Poetry On The Way." This poem is a beautiful tribute to the power of poetry and its ability to inspire and uplift the human spirit. In this article, we will take a closer look at this poem and explore its themes, imagery, and language.

The poem begins with the lines, "Poetry is a pack-sack of invisible keepsakes. Poetry is a sky dark with a wild-duck migration." These lines immediately set the tone for the poem, which is one of wonder and awe at the power of poetry. Sandburg compares poetry to a pack-sack, which is a metaphor for the way that poetry can hold memories, emotions, and experiences that are invisible to the naked eye. He also compares poetry to a sky dark with a wild-duck migration, which is a beautiful and powerful image that suggests the vastness and beauty of poetry.

Sandburg goes on to say that poetry is "a voice from the far-off hills." This line is a metaphor for the way that poetry can connect us to distant places and times. It suggests that poetry has the power to transport us to other worlds and to give us a glimpse of the mysteries of the universe.

The next lines of the poem are, "Poetry is a song that carries the heart away. Poetry is a river that flows through the heart of a man." These lines are a beautiful expression of the emotional power of poetry. Sandburg suggests that poetry can lift us up and carry us away, just like a song. He also compares poetry to a river, which is a metaphor for the way that poetry can flow through us and touch our deepest emotions.

Sandburg then goes on to say that poetry is "a garden where the flowers of the soul grow." This line is a beautiful metaphor for the way that poetry can nourish our inner selves and help us to grow and flourish. It suggests that poetry can be a source of beauty and inspiration that can help us to become better people.

The final lines of the poem are, "Poetry is a bird that sings in the dawn and flies away. Poetry is a bird that stays." These lines are a beautiful expression of the fleeting nature of poetry. Sandburg suggests that poetry is like a bird that sings in the dawn and then flies away, leaving us with a sense of wonder and awe. But he also suggests that poetry can stay with us, lingering in our hearts and minds long after the words have been spoken or written.

Overall, "Poetry On The Way" is a beautiful tribute to the power of poetry. Sandburg uses a range of metaphors and images to express the emotional and spiritual power of poetry, and his language is both beautiful and evocative. This poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to inspire, uplift, and transform the human spirit.

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