Carl Sandburg, Andrés Segovia

The Guitar

I have included below several works by Carl Sandburg written about the guitar and inspired by Sandburg's appreciation of the father of the modern classical guitar, Andrés Segovia.  This past year I have presented several performances--listed at the bottom of this page--focused on the relationship of these two men,  Sandburg's writings about the guitar, and the classical guitar pieces Segovia that inspired Sandburg.

Also, I have produced a CD, in part supported by a Western North Carolina Emerging Artists grant, that includes many of the classical guitar pieces Sandburg loved, the composition Segovia wrote for Sandburg, and the guitar-inspired writings of Carl Sandburg.  The liner is ten pages of history and the Sandburg texts.  The CD can be ordered by e-mailing me at ($10).

Carl Sandburg and Andrés Segovia

Andrés Segovia, the greatest and the most celebrated guitarist of the 20th century, was born in Linares, a town in the province of Jaén, in 1893.  Segovia became in his own words "the apostle of the guitar" and raised the instrument to new heights of respect and musical achievement. He died in Madrid in 1987 after experiencing heart trouble that forced him to cancel a concert at Carnegie Hall and fly home to Spain. He was known by both his years of  performance tours and his dozens of recordings. His performing career lasted 78 years; his recording career, 50.

Sandburg and Segovia met in 1938, although Sandburg knew Segovia's recordings from the 1920s.  It has been said that Sandburg was profoundly influenced by their meeting and that it rejuvenated his writing. He had Segovia promise lessons which took the form of one original compostion for Sandburg written on hotel stationery twelve years after their meeting.

Some of Sandburg's best guitar and Segovia-inspired writings were published by the Guitar Review and are shared below with permission of the Carl Sandburg Estate.

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The Guitar:  Some Definitions

Guitar Review, no. 12, 1951.
by Carl Sandburg

A chattel with a soul, often in part owning its owner
and tantalizing him with his lack of perfection.

An instrument of quaint design and quiet demeanor, dedicated to the dulcet
rather than the diapason.

A box of chosen woods having intimate accessories wherefrom sound is measured and commanded to the interest of ears not lost to hammer crash or wind whisper.

A portable companion, distinguished from the piano in that you can take it with you, neither horses nor motor truck being involved.

A small friend weighing less than a newborn infant, ever responsive to all sincere efforts aimed at mutual respect, depth of affection or love gone off the deep end.

A device in the realm of harmonic creation whose six silent strings have the sound potential of profound contemplation or happy-go-lucky whim.

A highly evolved contrivance whereby delicate melodic moments mingle with punctuation of silence bringing the creative hush.

A vibratory implement under incessant practice and skilled cajolery giving out with serene maroon meditations, flame dancers with scarlet sashes, snow-white acrobats plunging into black midnight pools, odd numbers in evening green waltzing with even numbers in dawn pink.


Subway Conversation
by Carl Sandburg

This is a submission of Sandburg's to the Guitar Review that was rejected, primarily on the grounds that it might offend serious readers in their respect for Segovia.  It was thought that Segovia himself would have enjoyed it.   Sandburg never submitted anything again to the Guitar Review.  Read more about this work and others in Gregory d'Alessio's The Old Troubadour, published by Walker, 1987.

"There is only one Segovia."

"Sure, sure.  How can there be more than one Segovia?"

"Well, what I mean is if there was more than one Segovia you would hear about it."

"I know what you mean,  you're trying to say nobody has yet come along who can stand up to Segovia and trade punches and come out even."

"You talk like Segovia is a prize fighter, a leather pusher."

"Well, a champeen is a champeen, ain't he?"

"Sure, and an artist is an artist."

"And if an artist has what it takes and has won more fights than any others in the field, why can't I say he's a champeen?"

"All right, have it your way.  But I come back to what I started with."

"And what was that?"

"I said there was only one Segovia and you got smart and had to ask me how could there be more than one Segovia."

"Well, by cracky.  I'm comin' back again to ask you how can there be two Segovias?"

"And the last time you said that, I told you, of course if there was more than one Segovia, we would hear about it."

"Sure, sure and since we don't hear there's two Segovias of course there's only one."

"And that's what I started to tell you and you wanted an argument--here's my station and I'm getting off and my last word to you is the same as my first--there is only one Segovia."


A Letter to the Editor of Century Magazine
(d'Alessio, p. 52)
by Carl Sandburg

Dear Editor:

Would you kindly correct the statement published a number of times that in the song-offering in my recital concerts I employ a banjo?

The instrument used is one with less percussion and more intimations of silence than the banjo.

Sometimes when the strings of it are thrummed, one has to listen twice to find the chord and the melody.

The box of the instrument is entirely of wood, with cunning construction, having had centuries of study, rehearsal and try-out by Italians, Spaniards, and the same Arabians who hunted up the Arabic numerals.

At music stores and pawn shops  the instrument is known as a Guitar.

The banjo is meant for jigs, buck and wing dances, attack, surprise, riot and rout.  The guitar is intended for serenades, croons, for retreat, retirement, fadeaway.

I thank you.

Carl Sandburg


The following work is from Timespan, his last published poem before his death.   It is significant to guitarists because of the poet's use of the "pling" sound--that of a plucked string instrument?--accompanying the last experience of life.

Selections from Sandburg's "Timesweep," his last poem published during his lifetime...

Since death is there in the marvel of the sun coming up to travel its arc and go down, saying I am time and you are time, since death is there in almost inaudible chimes of every slow clock tick beginning at the birth hour, there must be a tremor of music in the last little gong, the pling of the final announcement from the Black void.