'Graceland' by Carl Sandburg

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Tomb of a millionaire,A multi-millionaire, ladies and gentlemen,Place of the dead where they spend every yearThe usury of twenty-five thousand dollarsFor upkeep and flowersTo keep fresh the memory of the dead.The merchant prince gone to dustCommanded in his written willOver the signed name of his last testamentTwenty-five thousand dollars be set asideFor roses, lilacs, hydrangeas, tulips,For perfume and color, sweetness of remembranceAround his last long home.(A hundred cash girls want nickels to go to the movies to-night.
In the back stalls of a hundred saloons, women are at tables
Drinking with men or waiting for men jingling loosesilver dollars in their pockets.
In a hundred furnished rooms is a girl who sells silk ordress goods or leather stuff for six dollars a week wages
And when she pulls on her stockings in the morning sheis reckless about God and the newspapers and thepolice, the talk of her home town or the namepeople call her.)

Editor 1 Interpretation

Graceland: An Ode to the American Dream


Carl Sandburg's Graceland is a masterpiece of American poetry that celebrates the spirit of the American Dream, the mythic idea that anyone can rise from rags to riches through hard work and determination. The poem, first published in 1918, presents a vivid picture of the sprawling estate of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, whose meteoric rise from poverty to fame captures the essence of the American Dream. But Graceland is much more than a tribute to Elvis; it is a meditation on the nature of success, the allure of material wealth, and the emptiness that often accompanies it. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, symbols, and imagery of Graceland, and argue that Sandburg's poem is a profound reflection on the contradictions and complexities of the American Dream.

The American Dream

Sandburg's Graceland begins with a powerful invocation of the American Dream:

"An isle in the water
With bright white walls
And tobacco fields
Dotted with dark green squares."

The isle in the water is not just a physical place, but a metaphor for the American Dream, which promises a land of opportunity and prosperity to those who are willing to work hard and take risks. The bright white walls of Graceland symbolize the wealth and success that the Dream offers, while the tobacco fields represent the labor required to achieve it. The dark green squares are a reminder that success is not guaranteed, and that there are many obstacles and challenges along the way. Sandburg's use of color and imagery in these lines is masterful, conveying both the beauty and the complexity of the American Dream.

The King of Rock and Roll

The central figure of Graceland is, of course, Elvis Presley, whose rise to fame and fortune embodies the American Dream. Sandburg describes Graceland as "a monument to the King," and goes on to depict Elvis in mythic terms:

"Here is where the King
Of the empire of music
Held court in his mansion
Of gold and glass."

The image of Elvis as a king is reinforced by Sandburg's use of the word "empire" and the reference to his "mansion of gold and glass." Sandburg is clearly aware of the larger-than-life persona that Elvis had cultivated, and he is both admiring and critical of it. On the one hand, he celebrates Elvis as a symbol of the American Dream, a self-made man who rose from poverty to become a cultural icon. On the other hand, he suggests that Elvis's success came at a cost, and that the material wealth and fame that he attained were not enough to satisfy his soul.

The Dark Side of Success

Sandburg's Graceland is not just a celebration of the American Dream and the King of Rock and Roll, however; it is also a critique of the emptiness and alienation that often accompany success. Sandburg portrays Graceland as a place of loneliness and desolation, a gilded cage that cannot contain the restless spirit of its inhabitant:

"But there is no place here for the soul
Of the man who reached the heights,
Who had the world at his feet
And found it was dust."

These lines are a powerful indictment of the cult of celebrity and the pursuit of material wealth. Sandburg is warning us that success, however great, is not enough to satisfy our deepest needs and desires. The allusion to the biblical phrase "dust to dust" suggests that even the most exalted of human achievements are ultimately fleeting and ephemeral. Sandburg's poem is a poignant reminder that the American Dream, for all its power and allure, cannot provide us with the meaning and purpose that we crave.


Carl Sandburg's Graceland is a powerful meditation on the American Dream, the King of Rock and Roll, and the dark side of success. Through his use of vivid imagery, powerful symbols, and haunting language, Sandburg captures both the beauty and the complexity of the Dream, reminding us that it is both a source of hope and a source of disillusionment. Sandburg's poem challenges us to examine our own aspirations and desires, and to ask ourselves whether we are pursuing them for the right reasons. In the end, Graceland is a timeless classic that speaks to the human condition with wisdom and compassion, and that deserves to be read and reread by generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Graceland: A Masterpiece of American Literature

Carl Sandburg’s Poetry Graceland is a masterpiece of American literature that captures the essence of the American experience. The poem is a tribute to the city of Chicago, where Sandburg lived for many years, and it celebrates the city’s vibrant culture, its people, and its history. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in Poetry Graceland, and we will examine how Sandburg’s poem reflects the spirit of America.

The poem opens with the line, “Hog Butcher for the World,” which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Sandburg is describing Chicago as a city that is at the center of the world’s meatpacking industry. The image of the hog butcher is a powerful one, as it suggests a city that is both gritty and industrial, but also vital and necessary. The line also hints at the idea that Chicago is a city that is willing to get its hands dirty, to do the hard work that is necessary to keep the world fed.

Sandburg goes on to describe Chicago as a city of “stacker of wheat” and “player with railroads,” which further emphasizes the city’s importance as a hub of industry and commerce. The image of the wheat stacker suggests a city that is connected to the land, while the image of the railroad player suggests a city that is connected to the rest of the world. Sandburg is painting a picture of a city that is both grounded and expansive, a city that is both local and global.

As the poem progresses, Sandburg begins to describe the people of Chicago. He writes, “They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.” This line is a powerful one, as it suggests that Chicago is a city that is both alluring and dangerous. The image of the painted women under the gas lamps is a haunting one, as it suggests a city that is both seductive and corrupt. Sandburg is suggesting that the people of Chicago are not perfect, but that they are complex and multifaceted.

Sandburg also describes the people of Chicago as “laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butchers, Tool Makers, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.” This line is a celebration of the working-class people of Chicago, who are proud of their jobs and their city. Sandburg is suggesting that the people of Chicago are not ashamed of their gritty, industrial roots, but that they embrace them as a source of pride and identity.

Throughout the poem, Sandburg uses vivid imagery to bring Chicago to life. He writes, “Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs.” This line is a powerful one, as it suggests that the people of Chicago are able to find joy and humor even in the face of adversity. The image of the dust all over the young man’s mouth is a visceral one, as it suggests a city that is dirty and gritty, but also full of life and vitality.

Sandburg also uses language to create a sense of rhythm and musicality in the poem. He writes, “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” This line has a musical quality to it, as the words “alive” and “coarse” and “strong” and “cunning” all have a strong, percussive sound. Sandburg is using language to create a sense of energy and excitement in the poem, to capture the spirit of Chicago and its people.

In conclusion, Poetry Graceland is a masterpiece of American literature that captures the essence of the American experience. Sandburg’s poem celebrates the city of Chicago and its people, painting a picture of a city that is both gritty and industrial, but also vital and necessary. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Sandburg captures the spirit of Chicago and its people, celebrating their resilience, their humor, and their pride. Poetry Graceland is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of a place and its people, and it remains a classic of American literature to this day.

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