Harriet Monroe, ed. (18601936). Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. 191222.
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 cant sing. We are standing in a crowd, by a bridge, in the West. Hear the voices. Turn around. Lets 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 goodthat black smoke? Look awayto the streams and the lake. Were alive. See my hand, how it trembles on the rail.
Here is song, here in America, here now, in our time. Now wait. Ill go to the train. Ill not swing off into tunes. Im 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 its going to comethe song, I mean. Ive watched things, men and faces. I know.
First there are the broken things, myself and the others. I dont mind that. Im gone, shot to pieces. Im a part of the scheme. Im 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. Its a part of the scheme.
Now, faint little voice, do lift up. They are swept away in the void. Thats true enough. It had to be so from the very first.
Pshaw, Im steady enoughlet me alone. Keokuk, Tennessee, Michigan, Chicago, Kalamazoodont the names in this country make you fairly drunk? Well stand by this brown stream for hours. Ill not be swept awaywatch 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 werequite biblical toomakers of wagons and harness and plows, sailors and soldiers and pioneers. We got Walt and Abraham out of that lot.
You know my city, Chicago-triumphantfactories and marts and the roar of machineshorrible, terrible, ugly and brutal.
It crushed things down and down. Nobody wanted to hurt. They didnt want to hurt me or you. They were caught themselves. I know the old men heremillionaires. Ive always known old men all my life. Im old myself. You would never guess how old I am.
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 brotherslost in the flood.
Little faint beginnings of thingsold things dead, sweet old thingsa life lived in Chicago, in the West, in the whirl of industrial America.
God knows you might have become something elsejust like me. You might have made soft little tunes, written cynical little ditties, eh? Why the devil didnt you make some money and own an automobile?
Do you believenow listenI do. Say, younow 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. Thats a lie? Of course. The face of God looked down at me over the rim of the world.
Dont you see we are all a part of something, here in the West? We are trying to break through. Im a song myself, the broken end of a song myself.
We have to sing, you see, here in the darkness. All men have to singpoor 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.