Number Man

By Carl Sandburg 1878–1967 Carl Sandburg

(for the ghost of Johann Sebastian Bach)

He was born to wonder about numbers.

He balanced fives against tens
and made them sleep together
and love each other.

He took sixes and sevens
and set them wrangling and fighting
over raw bones.

He woke up twos and fours
out of baby sleep
and touched them back to sleep.

He mananged eights and nines,
gave them prophet beards,
marched them into mists and mountains.

He added all the numbers he knew,
multiplied them by new-found numbers
and called it a prayer of Numbers.

For each of a million cipher silences
he dug up a mate number
for a candle light in the dark.

He knew love numbers, luck numbers,
how the sea and the stars
are made and held by numbers.

He died from the wonder of numbering.
He said good-by as if good-by is a number.

Carl Sandburg, “Number Man” from The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. Copyright © 1970 by Carl Sandburg. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: Poetry (October 1947).

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This poem originally appeared in the October 1947 issue of Poetry magazine

October 1947
 Carl  Sandburg

Biography

"Trying to write briefly about Carl Sandburg," said a friend of the poet, "is like trying to picture the Grand Canyon in one black and white snapshot." His range of interests was enumerated by his close friend, Harry Golden, who, in his study of the poet, called Sandburg "the one American writer who distinguished himself in five fields—poetry, history, biography, fiction, and music."

Sandburg composed his poetry primarily in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

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