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Monday, June 6, 2011

Number 178: Carl Sandburg "Happiness"


I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell

me what is happiness.

And I went to famous executives who boss the work of

thousands of men.

They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though

 I was trying to fool with them

And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along

the Desplaines river

And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with

 their women and children and a keg of beer and an


-- Carl Sandburg

Hap Notes: The Des Plaines river (I've left Sandburg's spelling as he wrote it) runs through northern Illinois, down through Joliet and meets up with the Kankakee river and the Channahon where becomes the Illinois River which, in turn, is a tributary of the Mississippi. Why am I telling you this? Well, mostly to show that Sandburg is writing about urban workers (from Chicago) who are picnicking on their off hours. A good deal of the Hungarian population worked at the steel mills, railroads and brick factories along the Des Plaines in Chicago and it's surrounding suburbs. So what I'm telling you is that these celebrating happy people had hard, dirty, noisy jobs.

Just a side note: The Hungarian population in Chicago in 1870 was 159. By 1920 that number had grown to 70, 209. Many of the first Hungarians in Chicago were Hungarian revolutionaries who escaped after trying to throw off the choking shackles of the Hapsburg Empire. Hungarian was not even considered Hungary's "official" language until 1825, before then it was Latin. I can't possibly explain (or even understand) much of the history of the Austrian-Hungarian governments but Hungary was often getting the fuzzy part of the lollipop.

Anyway, all I'm really saying is that these working class folks having a picnic with an accordion were hard working people with a pedigree that came from the Kingdom of Hungary (established in 1000 A.D.) Many of them had to learn another language as an adult- it's hard to do and they did it. So, they aren't happy, "simple" people- you know how we tend to think happiness is simple-minded? This is not necessarily true.

Why is it we always understand what Sandburg is saying but we culturally continue to do the opposite? You know how cynics say that money can't buy happiness but it can buy the things that make you happy? Do you think they are talking about an accordion and a keg of beer?

Here's where we've mentioned Sandburg before:
and here:

The masthead today is a Thomas Cole painting "The Picnic." Cole was one of the founders of the Hudson River School of painting characterized by landscapes and "naturalism." Another aside: When I go to art galleries I usually ask the guards which paintings they like. The answers are always illuminating. At the Minneapolis Institute of Art one of the guards showed me a wonderful Pierre Bonnard, "Dining Room in the Country." At the National Gallery of Art, a guard took me to four very large Cole paintings "The Voyage of Life." A surprising and thoughtful choice. Here are the four paintings
Another interesting Cole series is "The Course of Empire" which references Byron, by the way. It's here

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