At the Gates of Tombs, by Carl Sandburg

At the Gates of Tombs
by Carl Sandburg


Civilizations are set up and knocked down
the same as pins in a bowling alley.

Civilizations get into the garbage wagons
and are hauled away the same as potato
peelings or any pot scrapings.

Civilizations, all the work of the artists,
inventors, dreamers of work and genius,
go to the dumps one by one.

Be silent about it; since at the gates of tombs
silence is a gift, be silent; since at the epitaphs
written in the air, since at the swan songs hung in
the air, silence is a gift, be silent, forget it.

If any fool, babbler, gabby mouth, stand up and say:
Let us make a civilization where the sacred and
beautiful things of toil and genius shall last –

If any such noisy gazook stands up and makes himself
heard – put him out- tie a can on him – lock him up
in Leavenworth -shackle him in the Atlanta hoosegow
– let him eat from the tin dishes at Sing Sing-
slew him in as a lifer at San Quentin.

It is the law; as a civilization dies and goes down
to eat ashes along with all other dead civilizations
– it is the law all dirty wild dreamers die first –
gag ’em, lock ’em up, get ’em bumped off.

And since at the gates of tombs silence is a gift,
be silent about it, yes, be silent – forget it.



Carl Sandburg wrote some hard words, some harsh poems. Though certainly not all were so stark. I have to say I approve of his use of the word “gazook.” I read this poem by Sandburg at around the same time I was reading “Etruscan Places” by D.H. Lawrence, wherein Lawrence explains how the Romans absorbed Etruscan culture until they became to intermingled only a trained expert could decern the difference. And so it has been since the beginning of time, and so it will be until the end, dust to dust.Β  ~ TS


by Carl Sandburg

Everybody loved Chick Lorimer in our town.
Far off
Everybody loved her.
So we all love a wild girl keepin hold
on a dream she wants.
Nobody knows now where Chick Lorimer went.
Nobody knows why she packed her trunk … a few old things
And is gone,
Gone with her little chin
Thrust ahead of her
And her soft hair blowing careless
From under a wide hat,
Dancer, singer, a laughing passionate lover.

Were there ten men or a hundred hunting Chick?
Were there five men or fifty with aching hearts?
Everybody loved Chick Lorimer.
Nobody knows where she’s gone.