Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Buffalo Dusk" by Carl Sandburg

Some years back, I came across "Buffalo Dusk" by Carl Sandburg. The poem is in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children: A Treasury of 572 Poems for Today's Child (1983) selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. Here it is:
The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they
     pawed the prairie sod into dust with their great hoofs,
     their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.
Sandburg was wrong, but is that what he thought when he wrote the poem in 1920? How many people, in 1920, thought "those who saw the buffaloes" were gone? It wasn't true then, and it wasn't true in 1983 when Jack Prelutsky chose the poem for the collection... Did Prelutsky think so in 1983? And when Lobel was drawing the buffalo herd that accompanies the poem, did he think so?    


Anonymous said...

I think I read the poem slightly differently-- it sounded to me as though the poem meant the actual, individual people who saw the herds of buffaloes were dead too. My first reading was that Sandburg was indicating that it's been at least a generation or two since all the buffalo died and no one currently alive had seen the herds. He was therefore was trying make an impact with how much we had lost when no one alive today has seen "the buffaloes by thousands".

Not to say your reading is inaccurate. I think the wording is ambiguous enough to support both or either reading.

Anonymous said...

I think your reading of the poem is highly inaccurate - you take it too literally. I believe the poem is conveying a sense that everything passes, and what is here now will not be here 20, 50, 100 years from now and the the universe is in a constant cycle of change...

Anonymous said...

The first comment makes more sense than the second. According to me, the second reading in the comments section is highly inaccurate. If you read this poem from a postcolonial pov,you will know that the poet is lamenting the loss of all the ecological resources. Since the Natives were closely related to their environment, a loss of environmental resources also signifies a loss of their culture.