Human Transience in Carl Sandburg’s Skyscraper

  1. Introduction
    1. Sandburg’s Skycraper exists as a meditation on the nature of human transience and mortality, and the nature of the structures we create.
  1. Question of Time
    1. Permanence vs. impermanence
      1. soul as permanent
        1. but humans as impermanent
        2. how can we reconcile the two of these?
      2. skyscraper ‘eases the burden of impermanence for the human being’, in the words of Prof Dimock
        1. even as the day-to-day grime of human existence is swept away, the skyscraper itself, built by our hands and with our sweat, exists within our smoke
          1. beginning and ending the poem with the skyscraper’s soul in relation to time and smoke
      3. the different scales of time, and the intermingling of conceptual ideas of these scales as they relate to human vs. structure
        1. references to hours
          1. “hands of clocks turn to noon hours”, as referring to people
          2. “hour by hour” section, referring to permanence of the structure
  1. Question of Mortality as Transience
    1. The deaths of the laborers
      1. What is the significance of directly related deaths (the man falling from the girder) vs. non-related deaths (men who sunk the pilings, etc)?
    2. The way Sandburg emphasizes these deaths and their explicit mortality in relation to the immortality of what they have created
      1. Skyscraper exists because of, but also beyond, its makers and its occupants
        1. It not only exists but continues to communicate to the world at large: the sign that speaks until midnight, the letters that are sent all around the country
  2. Conclusion and the Soul
    1. What is a soul? How is the soul of the skyscraper an extension of the human soul, and why?
      1. Dimock: “Skyscraper as a repository for the human soul”
    2. Conclude.



Callie:   An essay on the “Soul of the Skyscraper” is a great way to explore these intertwined registers of experience for Sandburg: the perishability of the human body; the finite limits of the material world;  and the ability of some parts of the built environment to transcend those limits and to lay claim to a different relation to time, partly fulfilling our dream of permanence.  The “hands of the clock” are inexorably one-directional for individual human beings, but they are endlessly cyclical when it comes to the alternating day-and-night rhythm of the skyscraper.   I look forward to an intense engagement with this philosophical Sandburg!        — wd

Stefanie’s comments: Callie, I love that you chose to write about this poem! This is very well-organized outline, and you use a lot of nice lines and concrete examples of your contended argument on a lower level.  My biggest question has to do with your thesis: how do the points you reference contribute to the questions of time and morality in this poem? What devices (thematic or textual) is Sandburg using to meditate on these questions, and what is he “arguing” (wrong word) about the skyscraper? Besides these questions, I think you’re well on your way. Good luck!!

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