Who Am I? by Carl Sandburg

A question we have all, at one point or another of our life, tried to answer, “Who Am I?” is also the title of a poem of Carl Sandburg, who attempts to decipher this famous rhetoric dilemma with the assistance of a poetic structure, albeit simple and not over the top.

Who Am I?


My head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of
universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading “Keep Off.”

My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive
in the universe.

Analysis of Sandburg’s “Who Am I”

One of the few literary devices that Sandburg uses in his poem is personification. The first three lines of Who Am I start with not a human being but with a part of it, such as my head, my feet and ‘my toes’. These lines also include a somewhat omnipresent force that the speaker is unable to grasp at, despite his willingness to reach the stars. The lines are short and end with abrupt syllable changes, catching the attention of the reader.

At the lower part of the poem, we see a massive shift of power in the words. It is no longer a physical part of the speaker that is being put emphasis on but his entire consciousness. He has been to hell and heaven; he is aware of the terribleness and the beauty that the world has to offer. In addition to the sudden metamorphosis of omnipotence, there is also a noticeable contrast between the consecutive lines.

The ending lines of the poem serve as the ultimate climax of the plot. It is irrelevant as to how much mankind may seek to ignore the flashing headlights of truth, And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs reading “Keep Off’, it is the most elusive captive in the universe” and therefore, cannot be hidden for a very long time.

Another literary device Carl Sandburg is liberal with is the use of oxymoron. Here, truth is described as the most elusive captive. However, it is not necessarily hard to keep hold of only due to its opaque nature. Truth cannot be defined easily since it differs from one person to the other, presenting a very varying range of shades. As long as the shades remain in number, it may be impossible to settle on just one point of view.