Happy 135th Birthday, Mother El! Carl Sandburg apparently loved you!

My grandmother, Elsie Klotz(!) Gilruth, was born on August 12, 1883. In 1923, apparently (see envelope, below), Carl Sandburg wrote her a poem and sent it to her home, presumably so she would get it before her husband saw it. Why he wrote this poem—and even more puzzling, why his sister, Mary Sandburg Johnson, would also write a poem to Mother El—remains a mystery. I do know his career at the Chicago Daily News1, working for my grandfather, James C. Gilruth, was very short-lived: James fired him around this time for being a lousy journalist (his version; Carl’s was different, I’m sure). Below are the poems, along with Elsie’s photo (taken around 1902, when she was married), and transcriptions of the poems. Enjoy!

(On the left):

“Coda brillante”     May Carl forgive me!

The knees / of this proud woman / tremble with terror, / for the stars have spoken to her / of things terrestrial.

May they speak / in accents soft and tender, / to the bones / in the back / of you, proud woman!

That ye / may never know / the deep thoughts they intimate / to stiff elbows / and creaking joints / of certain other proud women — Mary B. Sandburg

(On the right, p. 1 of Carl’s poem):


The knees / of this proud woman / are bone.

The elbows / of this proud woman / are bone.

The summer-white stars / and the winter-white stars / never stop circling / around this proud woman.

The bones / of this proud woman / answer the vibrations / of the stars.

(P. 2 of Carl’s poem):

In summer / the stars speak deep thoughts / In the winter / the stars repeat summer speeches.

The knees / of this proud woman / know these thoughts / and know these speeches / of the summer and winter stars.

— Carl Sandburg

March 14, 1923

IF you think I have misread these poems–or IF you can make any sense of them!–PLEASE let me know, either by email or in the Comments below.

Also: why did his sister get involved?? Mysteries!

Thank you!

1. Interesting factoid: Victor F. Lawson, the boss of my grandfather (“Daddy Jim”) at the Chicago Daily News, was the man for whom the word “curmudgeon” was coined.

About Nancy

Nancy Hoffmann began studying Zen Buddhism in 1992 and has dedicated this site to meditating on what she sees and believes. She is not averse to sharing laughter as well.
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