My Fellow Worms

Carl Sandburg - Flat Rock, North Carolina
Broadcast during the 1950s
Carl Sandburg
Library of Congress photo

Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg wrote poetically of his beliefs in hope, humanity, liberty, and the price of freedom. This essay was recorded as part of the original This I Believe radio series in the 1950s.

The man who sits down and searches himself for his answer to the question, “What Do I Believe?” is either going to write a book or a few well-chosen thoughts on what he thinks it might be healthy for mankind to be thinking about in the present tribulations and turmoils. I believe in getting up in the morning with a serene mind and a heart holding many hopes. And so large a number of my fellow worms in the dust believe the same that there is no use putting stress on it.

I can remember many years ago, a beautiful woman in Santa Fe saying, “I don’t know how anybody can study astronomy and have ambition enough to get up in the morning.” She was putting a comic twist on what an insignificant speck of animate star dust each of us is amid cotillions of billion-year constellations.

I believe in humility, though my confession and exposition of the humility I believe in would run into an old fashioned two- or three-hour sermon. Also I believe in pride, knowing well that the deadliest of the seven deadly sins is named as pride. I believe in a pride that prays ever for an awareness of that borderline where, unless watchful of yourself, you cross over into arrogance, into vanity, into mirror gazing, into misuse and violation of the sacred portions of your personality.

No single brief utterance of Lincoln is more portentous than the line he wrote to a federal authority in Louisiana. “I shall do nothing in malice, for what I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”

Now I believe in platitudes, when they serve, especially that battered and hard-worn antique, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Hand in hand with freedom goes responsibility. I believe that free men over the world cherish the earth as cradle and tomb, the handiwork of their Maker, the possession of the family of man. I believe freedom comes the hard way—by ceaseless groping, toil, struggle—even by fiery trial and agony.

Carl Sandburg worked as a fireman, house painter, political organizer, and journalist before finding fame as a poet and writer. He won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Corn Huskers (1919) and Complete Poems (1951), and for his massive biography of Abraham Lincoln (1940). Sandburg was also an accomplished guitarist and folk singer. He died in 1967.