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Volunteer finds unknown Carl Sandburg poem focusing on guns, violence

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 9:26 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — CHICAGO — With the debate over gun control heating up, a retired volunteer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign made a timely find.

Ernie Gullerud, a former professor of social work at the university, came upon a previously unpublished poem by Carl Sandburg titled “A Revolver,” which addresses the issue of guns and violence.

“I’m no judge of what makes a great poem, but this one said so much and so succinctly and to the point. I thought ‘Golly, someone could have written this today,’” said Gullerud, 83.

It’s not clear when Sandburg typed the poem:

X X X

Here is a revolver.

It has an amazing language all its own.

It delivers unmistakable ultimatums.

It is the last word.

A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.

Hunger, fear, revenge, robbery hide behind it.

It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful.

It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision.

It is more rapid than any judge or court of law.

It is less subtle and treacherous than any one lawyer or ten.

When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme court, nor any mandamus nor any injunction nor any stay of execution in and interfere with the original purpose.

And 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.

X X X

Gullerud has volunteered at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library every Thursday for more than seven years. For the past two years, he has been working to classify and enter a file folder of poems into the school’s electronic system.

He was working through poems by Sandburg this month when he came across “A Revolver” typed on scratch paper and recognized its relevance to current cultural debates across the country.

“When I wrote down that last line, I knew this was really big,” Gullerud said.

Sandburg, a Galesburg, Ill., native and at one time a Chicago newspaperman, received Pulitzer Prizes for poetry in 1919 and 1951 and another in 1940 for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Gullerud took the poem to Valerie Hotchkiss, head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, who also noted its relevance.

University of Illinois English professor emeritus George Hendrick, who has published multiple volumes of Sandburg’s poems, said “A Revolver” appears to be from the writer’s later work. Hendrick speculated that the poem could be related to Lincoln’s assassination.

“Sandburg wrote the multi-volume biography of Lincoln. … Lincoln was his great hero, and his great hero was cut down by a man who used a gun to end his existence,” Hendrick said. “It’s clear that Sandburg had very strong feelings about weapons being used to end the life of others.”

Hendrick said many of Sandburg’s undocumented poems and draft work remain in the University of Illinois library. Sandburg’s wife and daughter gave the papers to the library years ago, he said, and it’s now a “great collection.”

Sandburg died in 1967.

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