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The past is a bucket of ashes

Yesterday morning Pastor Conley read a poem that was written by Carl Sandburg in 1922. I don't remember ever having read the poem before, but it resonated with me and I thought I'd post it on my blog. If you read it aloud, it is particularly stirring.

"The past is a bucket of ashes."

The woman named Tomorrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead.

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was.
The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was.

It has happened before.
Strong men put up a city and got
a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women
to warble: We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was.

And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
there were rats and lizards who listened
… and the only listeners left now
… are … the rats … and the lizards.

And there are black crows
crying, "Caw, caw,"
bringing mud and sticks
building a nest
over the words carved
on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was.

The only singers now are crows crying, "Caw, caw,"
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards.

The feet of the rats
scribble on the door sills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats.

And the wind shifts
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.


Do you think it applies to society today or only to times past? Have things changed since Sandburg wrote this in 1922?


"Leave it all in the hands that were wounded for you." — Elisabeth Elliot (Through the Gates of Splendor)

=^..^= =^..^=

There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

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7 Comments on “The past is a bucket of ashes”

  1. #1 Michael
    on Feb 29th, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    The current political situation in our country is very disappointing. I try not to put much hope or confidence in our leaders to begin with, but it is discouraging to see what so many in our country consider to be important. I am thankful that my ultimate citizenship is in the kingdom that will last forever.

  2. #2 Ken & Elaine Carr
    on Feb 29th, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks for your e-mails — we do enjoy them.

    K & E

  3. #3 Rob
    on Feb 29th, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    I agree in all points, Michael. Thanks for your comment.

  4. #4 Joy
    on Mar 1st, 2016 at 9:43 am

    There is nothing new under the sun. Humanity is now what it always has been. Cycles of history continue ever spiraling around, always repeating what others have done before them. Most people fully exist in their present circumstance, assuming everything is going to be like it is now, without a thought of who went before or what will happen after.
    Obviously, God is not unaware, not allowing humanity to simply play itself out. He is ever present, ever leading, guiding, allowing, designing… Carl Sandburg masterfully wrote this from a viewpoint larger than just the “now,” but this viewpoint doesn’t necessarily recognize the hand of God behind the rise and fall of nations.

  5. #5 Rob
    on Mar 1st, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Very well stated, Joy. Thanks for your comment.

  6. #6 Sherrill
    on Mar 3rd, 2016 at 10:45 am

    That kind of poetry is odd to me, but definitely understand it’s meaning and it’s descriptive of our nation today. I’m very disturbed right now as I was hoping things would maybe get better but I’m not seeing that happen. I’m thankful I know who’s really in control … just don’t understand sometimes why He allows what He allows. Just have to trust Him.

  7. #7 Rob
    on Mar 3rd, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    I appreciate where you’re coming from, Sherrill. That’s why I included the quotation from Elisabeth Elliot. We need to trust Him, knowing that He has never lost, and will never lose, control. The Lord will never say, “Oops!”