Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Song of Industrial America
By Sherwood Anderson
 
From “Mid-American Songs”

THEY tell themselves so many little lies, my Belovéd. Now wait, little hand. You can’t sing. We are standing in a crowd, by a bridge, in the West. Hear the voices. Turn around. Let’s go home. I am tired. They tell themselves so many little lies.
You remember, in the night, we arose. We were young. There was smoke in the passage and you laughed. Was it good—that black smoke? Look away—to the streams and the lake. We’re alive. See my hand, how it trembles on the rail.
 
Here is song, here in America, here now, in our time. Now wait. I’ll go to the train. I’ll not swing off into tunes. I’m all right. I just want to talk.
You watch my hand on the rail of this bridge. I press down. The blood goes down, there. That steadies me; it makes me all right. Now here is how it’s going to come—the song, I mean. I’ve watched things, men and faces. I know.
First there are the broken things, myself and the others. I don’t mind that. I’m gone, shot to pieces. I’m a part of the scheme. I’m the broken end of a song myself. We are all that, here in the West, here in Chicago. Tongues clatter against teeth. There is nothing but shrill screams and a rattle. That had to be. It’s a part of the scheme.        5
 
          Souls, dry souls, rattle around.
          Winter of song. Winter of song.
 
Now, faint little voice, do lift up. They are swept away in the void. That’s true enough. It had to be so from the very first.
Pshaw, I’m steady enough—let me alone. Keokuk, Tennessee, Michigan, Chicago, Kalamazoo—don’t the names in this country make you fairly drunk? We’ll stand by this brown stream for hours. I’ll not be swept away—watch my hand, how steady it is. To catch this song and sing it would do much, make much clear.
Come close to me, warm little thing. It is night. I am cold. When I was a boy in my village, here in the West, I always knew all the old men. How sweet they were—quite biblical too—makers of wagons and harness and plows, sailors and soldiers and pioneers. We got Walt and Abraham out of that lot.        10
Then a change came.
 
          Drifting along. Drifting along.
          Winter of song. Winter of song.
 
You know my city, Chicago-triumphant—factories and marts and the roar of machines—horrible, terrible, ugly and brutal.
It crushed things down and down. Nobody wanted to hurt. They didn’t want to hurt me or you. They were caught themselves. I know the old men here—millionaires. I’ve always known old men all my life. I’m old myself. You would never guess how old I am.        15
 
Can a singer arise and sing in this smoke and grime? Can he keep his throat clear? Can his courage survive?
I’ll tell you what it is—now you be still. To hell with you. I’m an old empty barrel floating in the stream—that’s what I am. You stand away. I’ve come to life. My arms lift up. I begin to swim.
Hell and damnation—turn me loose! The floods come on. That isn’t the roar of the trains at all. It’s the flood, the terrible, horrible flood turned loose.
 
          Winter of song. Winter of song.
          Carried along. Carried along.        20
 
Now in the midst of the broken waters of my civilization rhythm begins. Clear above the flood I raise my ringing voice. In the disorder and darkness of the night, in the wind and the washing waves, I shout to my brothers—lost in the flood.
Little faint beginnings of things—old things dead, sweet old things—a life lived in Chicago, in the West, in the whirl of industrial America.
 
God knows you might have become something else—just like me. You might have made soft little tunes, written cynical little ditties, eh? Why the devil didn’t you make some money and own an automobile?
 
Do you believe—now listen—I do. Say, you—now listen! Do you believe the hand of God reached down to me in the flood? I do. ’Twas like a streak of fire along my back. That’s a lie? Of course. The face of God looked down at me over the rim of the world.
 
Don’t you see we are all a part of something, here in the West? We are trying to break through. I’m a song myself, the broken end of a song myself.        25
We have to sing, you see, here in the darkness. All men have to sing—poor broken things. We have to sing here in the darkness in the roaring flood. We have to find each other. Have you courage tonight for a song? Lift your voices. Come.
 
 
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