1. Home
  2. Poetry Magazine
  3. Poems
  4. Number Man by Carl Sandburg
Number Man

Related Poem Content Details

(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 managed 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: The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1970)

More from this issue

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

  • Search every issue of Poetry

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine. Search the whole site

Number Man

Related Poem Content Details

  • Search every issue of Poetry

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine. Search the whole site

Other Information