Hemingway and Sandburg – Literary giants

By Karen S. Lynch

March 25, 2008


   There was no evidence “The fog comes on little cat feet” on a sunny afternoon the day before Easter. A breath of Canadian air sent the snipped ribbon fluttering like a kite tail in a March breeze. Beyond the barn doors of the Galesburg birth site of his friend, Carl Sandburg contains the museum quality tribute, “Picturing Hemingway: A Writer in His Time.”

   The internationally traveled exhibit created by Frederick C. Voss, Chief Historian of the National Portrait Gallery for the centennial of Hemingway’s birth in 1999, beautifully illustrates the life of literary master Ernest Hemingway.

   Redd Griffin, a noted Hemingway scholar and former director of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, gave the keynote address at the exhibit opening. The Carl Sandburg State Historic Site and its Foundation members sponsored and beautifully assembled the traveling exhibit, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery and The Earnest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park.

   The exhibit currently on display in the Barn consists of 16 large panels comprised of a collage of photographs and text, chronologically arranged in seven chapters of Hemingway’s life, from his beginning years in Oak Park to his final years in Ketchum, Idaho.

   Redd Griffin spoke about the many similarities between the life and writing styles of Sandburg and Hemingway, both friends and literary masters. 

   “Years before Hemingway, Sandburg had been writing poetry as a journalist. His parents and community in their own way were helpful, as Hemingway’s were, in preparing him to be a successful writer.”

   Hemingway had begun to learn “how it was” and communicated through his poetry, much as Sandburg did, drawing from his own experiences and frustrations with the struggles of life. The son of a physician, Dr. Clarence “Ed” Hemingway, who loved outdoor life, taught Ernest to fish from the Des Plaines Valley River. Hemingway came to love to hike, hunt, and fish, becoming his life-long passion. The experience taught Hemingway to observe whatever was around him.

   Hemingway’s mother, Grace Hall Hemingway was a musician who exposed Ernest to the arts of Chicago – concerts, operas and museum exhibitions. She taught him to appreciate images, feelings and thoughts. Hemingway transformed these sensitivities into his writing, giving his readers all the senses of being present in his novels.

   Ernest changed the way Americans wrote forever by using very few adjectives with short declarative sentences and short paragraphs, part of his journalistic style. After WWI, while living and working from Paris, Hemingway wrote as a correspondent. Foreign correspondents wrote mostly by telegraph using a style known as “cable ease.” Hemingway said sending dispatches by telegraph sharpened his writing skills and taught him word economy.

   Sandburg and Hemingway lived near parallel lives in their styles and accomplishments. Both were poets, journalists, novelists, and gifted writers using purity and simplicity. The sound and rhythm of their words became know as poetic journalism. Both Sandburg and Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize (Sandburg twice) with Hemingway also winning a Nobel Prize.


   These two literary masters were friends and observers of life, with a unique talent to put their observations to paper using all the senses. Both lived and worked in Chicago. As newspaper journalist, often angered by the injustices of politics and treatment of the poor and oppressed became part of their writings. Hemingway was born in Oak Park, while Sandburg was born in Galesburg and moved to Chicago.

   There were also similarities with a spirit of wanderlust in both Sandburg and Hemingway. Both suffered from periods of depression, with Hemingway eventually committing suicide, following the path of his father and two siblings.

   Hemingway and Sandburg had been friends for decades when Ernest died. Sandburg wrote about his friend (Hemingway) “…throws a long shadow over the pages of American literary history. I prize a letter from him where his hand wrote, ‘Three muskrats swim west on the Desplaines River [sic].’ After quoting this line from one of my poems, he told of a long canoe trip down that river which flowed between his Oak Park home and my Maywood, Illinois home.”

   Sandburg wrote in those lines “how it was” in their friendship. Using the principles of “how it was” in life propelled both men to literary greatness. By exploring the inner life of sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, both Carl and Ernest combined music and drama into their literary art. Both began with an enthusiasm for poetry and initially earned a living through journalism, although Hemingway wrote for only a short time for the Kansas City Star newspaper.

   Sandburg first attracted attention through his poetry published in the magazine, Poetry. The publication of Chicago Poems in 1916 made Carl Sandburg one of the most famous poets in America. While writing in Chicago, Sandburg often wrote about the hardships of the city, most evident in his book-length poem, The People, Yes.


I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is

   done through me?

I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the

   world’s food and clothes.

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons

   come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And

   then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand

   for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.

   I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.

   I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and

   makes me work and give up what I have.

In a Farewell to Arms, Hemingway effectively used the poetry of “how it was” by placing the reader in his story through simple language, using all the senses.

   In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

   Hemingway did more than simply describe the scene. The reader can see the view from the house, feel the warmth of the sun, hear the river and the marching troops and smell the dust that covered the leaves. With the use of simple language, Hemingway left the reader to fill the blank spaces with their own imaginations and adjectives he left out. Hemingway wrote, “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eights of it under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.” And Hemingway did just that – brilliantly.

   The Hemingway exhibit will remain on display through April 27 at the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site, 313 East Third Street, Galesburg, Illinois. Hours at the birth site of Carl Sandburg are Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.





Picturing Hemingway: A Writer in His Time

By Karen S. Lynch

March 13, 2008


   A major literary exhibition, “Picturing Hemingway: A Writer in His Time” will open to the public at the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site at 2:00 p.m. March 22 and will remain on display through April 27 in the “Barn” at 313 East Third Street in Galesburg.

   Redd Griffin, past Chairman and director of The Ernest Hemingway Foundation will be the keynote speaker with an address entitled, “Sandburg’s Friend Hemingway and The Poetry of How it Was.”

   The internationally traveled exhibit created by Frederick C. Voss, Chief Historian of the National Portrait Gallery for the centennial of Hemingway’s birth in 1999, contains 16 large panels with photos and text depicting the chronological life of Hemingway from his beginning years in Oak Park to his final years in Ketchum, Idaho.

   The pictorial exhibit is on loan from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park in celebration of Hemingway’s novel, Farewell to Arms. “The Big Read” is a national program designed to restore reading to the center of American Culture.

   A video interview of Frederick Voss will outline his creative interpretation of the exhibit. A ribbon cutting will officially open the exhibit in the “Barn” after the presentations with refreshments and a reception to follow.

   Co-sponsors of the event are the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site, through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and the Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association. The event is free and open to the public. For further information, contact Steve Holden, Site Superintendent at (309) 342-2361. Hours at the birthplace are Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.





“The hardest thing in the world is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn, and anybody is cheating who takes politics as a way out. All the outs are too easy, and the thing itself is too hard to do.” – Ernest Hemingway


   To explain Ernest Hemingway would require more adjectives than his own writing style. Hemingway wrote in short, rhythmic sentences – omitting most descriptive adjectives embraced by many successful writers. In describing his method Hemingway wrote, “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eights of it under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.”

   Hemingway would often focus on the dark side of human existence struggling to survive in a hostile world. In contrast, Hemingway was living an exuberant lifestyle himself after he achieved success as a respected journalist and gifted writer. An enigma of a writer, Hemingway became larger than life in his public persona while living adventures much like his novels loosely based on his own experiences.

   Hemingway won a Silver Medal of Military Honor as a Red Cross ambulance driver on the Italian front in WWI – nearly killed by leg wounds suffered while carrying an injured man over his shoulder. While recovering in a hospital, he fell in love with one of his nurses in Milan. Rejection by his romantic interest became the model for his tragic love novel. Hemingway also won a Bonze Star during WWII while traveling with American troops as a correspondent.

   Hemingway led a life of glamour and notoriety, often greater than the stories he covered as a correspondent. As a correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War in 1937, his fellow members of the press treated him as much of the news story as the war itself. His literary career would find one mediocre work followed by a masterpiece.

   Often embracing a life of danger from bullfighting and boxing to hunting wild game in Africa, including two successive plane crashes on safari, Hemingway’s life was a constant adventure with several near death experiences. The social side of life found Hemingway haunting the finest bars in Paris during the days of Prohibition and sharing intimate friendships with movie stars like Gary Cooper.

   Married four times, Hemingway lived to see 18 of his work published, winning both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for writing. After reading the tragic tale of love and war in Hemingway’s first bestseller, A Farewell to Arms, his friend, poet Archibald MacLeish said, “You are not only a fine writer but something a lot more than that and it scares me.”

   With a journalistic style, his books were lean narrative prose. While a writer of fiction, a portion of Hemingway’s life emerged in his body of literary works. He struggled early in his career to gain recognition and financial stability.

   Embracing his success with an extravagant life style later found Hemingway somewhat escaping his notoriety through the abuse of alcohol. In his later years, Hemingway suffered from severe depression and acute paranoia. Believing federal agents were after him sometimes sent him hunting for Nazi submarines off the shores of Key West. Hemingway also loved to fish for Marlin from his Florida home in Key West once he settled back in the United States. 

   After suffering with poor health from years of alcoholism, digestive problems, high blood pressure and failing eyesight, Hemingway died a millionaire after committing suicide in 1961, following the path of his father and two siblings.

   From his time spent as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star and the Toronto Star, to war correspondent and novelist. From Red Cross worker during WWI, Hemingway was very much a novel himself in the life he led. His unfinished manuscripts outlived him for many years including, True at First Light, edited by his son Patrick released to celebrate his 100th birthday in 1999.

    A Farewell to Arms is this year’s book selection made by the Galesburg Public Library for “The Big Read” an initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts. A number of events and book discussions are currently underway in conjunction with Sandburg Days “Festival for the Mind,” honoring Galesburg’s own two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet, Carl Sandburg.

   Sandburg Days is April 24-26, 2008. Events include reading Hemingway’s novel, A Farwell to Arms, jazz music, a poetry slam featuring Marc Smith and a teen poetry slam. There are also writing, poetry, and photography contests and numerous exhibits throughout Galesburg. For a complete listing of dates and times of all the events check with the Galesburg Public Library, Sandburg State Historic Site, or go to the Web site at: www.sandburg.edu/festival