I AM the nigger.
Singer of songs,
Dancer. . .
Softer than fluff of cotton. . .
Harder than dark earth
Roads beaten in the sun
By the bare feet of slaves. . .
Foam of teeth. . . breaking crash of laughter. . .
Red love of the blood of woman,
White love of the tumbling pickaninnies. . .
Lazy love of the banjo thrum. . .
Sweated and driven for the harvest-wage,
Loud laugher with hands like hams,
Fists toughened on the handles,
Smiling the slumber dreams of old jungles,
Crazy as the sun and dew and dripping, heaving life
of the jungle,
Brooding and muttering with memories of shackles:
I am the nigger.
Look at me.
I am the nigger.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

56 Comments

  1. FER says:

    sandburg aint black wtf is he talking about

  2. Lil Genius says:

    Oh wow. People are just…wow. I love this poem, not only because its written amazingly, but because it caught my attention. so EVERYONE needs to chill, its just a poem, dont be stupid about it. its only racist if YOU make it that way. so leave it alone.
    ~Have A Nicce Life!

  3. pepper says:

    oh god this is so funny, i’ve read a few pages of comments and i have to say that i find them quite hilarious. i personally thought it was very genuine and genius of sandburg to write this poem. the title itself is quite striking and i have to say that the word nigger is really why i clicked on the link in the first place. but to skim through and see comments left just about broke my heart

    it seems to me that people really have their heads up their asses. and i agree that most people with negative comments accusing of racism really didnt read the whole thing, and if they did they only took from it what they wished. example: “Lazy love of the banjo thrum” oh looky there, he used the word lazy along with the word nigger, he is most obviously calling niggers lazy right? oh posh, some of you really need to grow up.

    second, in retaliation to the “confounding racism” in this poem i noticed several of you referred to white people in a derogatory way, does this not contradict the point you are trying to prove? your own racism completely outdoes that of sandburg, for he wasnt being racist in the first place. but you my friends are taking it to the very level you are accusing.

    but what do i know? i’m just a “Kraker” after all. yet i’ve always believed racism has existed more in the minds of those that believe they are subject to it…

  4. brad walton says:

    you dumba**es need to get a real job instead of reading poems like do construction and work with big hard throbbing piecies of wood!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. tyrone jennings says:

    i love this poem too…because it is amazing i swear i love black people…is this guy black??…i am black

  6. melissa says:

    I love this poem!!

  7. michelle says:

    For all of you stating that Carl Sandburg is “racist,” you yourselves appear to be a bit naive. Broaden your horizons a bit and recognize that the word “nigger” has many different meanings and/or connotations. The world itself was created for a reason…we need to not shy away from it; rather embrace it and perhaps research the history of the word. Take into account when and where “Nigger” was written. It’s connotations then, are certainly not what they are now. In addition to this, it is possible, like many critics have suggested, that Sandburg chose to use the word “nigger” to invoke emotion, to give the poem an element of shock value…to grab the readers attention.

    Give me a break with the “racist” bull. YOU are the ones that appear to be narrow minded…

  8. Rene says:

    Okay, I know that this is very controversial, but think about what Sanburg is really trying to say. The word was used to intrigue the reader. He is not racist. You don’t have to read that far to figure that out. He starts off by saying “I am nigger”

  9. abby says:

    i agree with comment #39 its a bad word used in a very bad way hes so racist

  10. Renisha says:

    some of you all really don’t understand this poem. to you who said “I love niggers i am one myself”. what?!? you have no idea what that word means.
    were you ever shackled and chained?
    did you ever cry tears of dust wishing to go back to your motherland?
    have you ever tried to keep the little of your mind that managed to escape the demons of slavery?
    Where you ever beaten and whipped?
    Did you ever battle between running away from the slaveholder the only life you know of depended on or finally claiming your freedom and humanity?
    Man, you never went through anything like that! Ever! That’s what a real N*GGER is! People were lynched, assainated, repressed for us not go back to being true N*GGERS. And even after slavery ended African Americans still fought for us not to be called that anymore. But here you are throwing all that back in their faces by saying “I AM A N*GGER!”
    It’s like saying to them “what you did was all in vain. i don’t mind being called a ignorant angry animal-like creature. i’ll go as far as calling myself that.”
    IT MAKES NO SENSE.
    But I have to be honest and say the one thing that I find worthy in n*ggers as described in sandburg is the STRENGTH in them that left behind such a timeless resounding legacy. I appreciate that and I know it was the only thing in a n*gger that passed on the majority of the black race we see today.

  11. metaphormet says:

    Not to begin or continue a discussion on appellation or nomenclature, I am impelled to say this.

    I subscribe with alacrity to Sartre’s “if you label me you negate me.” Something about the mind. When the labels go on the analysis goes off. Look at me. Study my manifestations. Watch what I do.

    On the other hand, especially if you are in cahoots with paragraph one this applies. You can call me anything. Just don’t call me late for supper.

    Personally, I like the term nigger. I still see it as a naturally linguistic pattern of slang progression.

    It ain’t what you say, it is how you say it.

    As a child in the south I grew up with black kids. I discuss this in my poem “Nonconnah Yards”. Later on I found I was not really caucasian. I was half cherokee. But, one of my earliest questions about things was this. What is wrong with my family that none of us has any color. This question preceded by many years the normal question children have of “where do babies come from?”

    Some expressions just sound so pleasant. As I grew, I noticed a tremendous respect for mother among black people I knew. I also became aware of a phrase I often heard that was used to address one’s mother. It sounded so pleasant.

    Eventually I got around to wondering what words the phrase I heard contained and what they meant. I couldn’t untangle it. I did not want to embarrass anyone, me or my friends. Also I reckoned that I should be able to figure it out.

    The phrase sounded like “muh deah”. And it was. And it was so simply beautiful I am still many years later enchanted by it. “Mother Dear.” What a beautiful, respectful phrase for mom. And I never heard a black person add mother in any other way in the US.

    Why do I mention it? Well, it could be the only phrase I can think of that cannot be expressed in a negative way. That’s all.

    Thinking back, I would have been pleased to have named my poem, “Nonconnah Yards Nigger” but would I have run into the same kind of kneejerk reactions that Carl Sandburg has? I would not enjoy being hurt that way.

    Thank you. Happy Mother’s Day. May 13, 2007.

  12. The Truth says:

    Are you people idiots? If you think this poem is derogatory in the least you need to take an english class. Put your “40” down and listen. This is a beautiful poem about how Sandburg felt towards the African American people. HE FELT SORRY FOR THE WAY THE WHITES TREATED THEM!!!!!!!!! So “coolio” or “homie g dawg” how about read a poem and understand it before leaving a racist comment about beating up a brilliant poet that’s been dead for years.

  13. reggie bush says:

    I love niggers i am one myself and i am not afraid of wipping this dead old basterds ass.

  14. Lisa says:

    Wow. I can’t tell if you people are joking or you’re just uneducated. If you understand the time period you’ll understand the poem.

  15. Alicia Hubbard says:

    i really like poems because it can relate to us arfrican americans. I has a way of telling how you feel too!!

  16. Brittany says:

    This is a great poem. It is about time that someone has understood the greatness of being a NIGGER. I am pround of my race.

  17. Sweet says:

    This poem is bad..for back in the days but not its just funny to see a white men worry about the black man! he betta get gone! forreal

  18. Anna says:

    i want to know why did he used this word. he knew this word used toward blacks in a racial way.

  19. Nathaniel Dillard says:

    I like this poem because he put him self in other shoes. He also described in a little details of a black person. He also not only did that but showed sort of the strength of a black person.

  20. Emily says:

    Wow this is a very cute poem about blacks

  21. Leslie says:

    I am black. This is a beautiful poem. Written about a time I thankfully did not live in, but a time made plain and clear by Mr. Sandburg’s prose. I could see the slave, “nigger,” perhaps my great uncle or great grandfather. This is not a derogatory poem at all. The subject is unfortunate, but it also just true to life.

  22. James says:

    You insane idiots, you crazy racists. The man does not think he is black, he is not mocking black people, he is using the word “nigger” as an interpretation, if anything he feels bad for you, stop just looking at a poems title and judging it you morons, im not judging blacks, but you are way to sensitive, and you want to go beat him up? HES DEAD AND BURIED YOU IDIOT.

  23. MZF says:

    I see you’ve all noticed that the title of the poem is a racial slur. Next, maybe some of you could try reading the poem. Or not commenting on it. Choose one. You’re not commenting on the poem, you’re commenting on the title. This was not written by a racist or a “wigger”. I’m trying not to flame here, but it’s hard to resist… Did you honestly read past the first line? Or did you just see “I AM the nigger” and assume you knew the rest?

  24. hey says:

    Hey, this poem is really bad, he should’nt be dis’in black peeps whoever put their name as kkk can go to *!!@@. Jack-****

  25. annoyed says:

    so childish every1 is the same it does not matter the colour of skin!!!!!!

  26. Abby says:

    At first glance, it is simple to see why people are so offended by this poem. But it is such a wrong interpretation! For lallapalloosa and coolio dawg – Carl Sandburg is not black, nor does he think he is! You completely lost the point, saw it out of context. Absorb the poem. Sandburg is celebrating a rich history and flavorful vocabulary. He is not using derogatory phrases he is celebrating not only a race but a people. Not just black people, but all people. He is even featuring himself inside the poem. He is comparing himself to an outsider and celebrating the beauty of the difference. It is completely ignorant when people think he is trying to be black or degrading a black man – and frankly, I think it shows alot of insecurity to think that! Everything in the world isn’t black or white. And he is portraying exactly that in this rich and beautiful context.

  27. yo mama says:

    wat up with the? im the best rapper in my hood, how about u g-dawg wannabe?

  28. coolio dawg says:

    This poem is so racist!!!!!! wat a wigger carl sandburg was!!!! he thinks he is black!!!! White people need to stop trying to be black, They put us through slavery and dis us. and then they wanna be like us. ???????? what the hell???

  29. Kilio says:

    The term “nigger” in this poem is not meant to be derogatory, but rather describes the term that people used back during Carl Sandburg’s life to describe a black person. I think this poem is genius, because of the way Sandburg writes in the point of view of a simple “nigger”, reminiscing on the past. The last three lines have the most impact of all: “I am the nigger. Look at me. I am the nigger.” This poem is genius!

  30. lalapalloosa says:

    This poem is just trying to tell u that blacks are bad, AND I THINK THAT IS BULLSHIT

  31. Luke Vaj says:

    This poem describes a lot about the era that Carl was from. Reread the poem to understand its full content, for it does describe what Carl saw. Now time has changed , but history will always be with us. We cannot change the past but we can make a difference for the future.

  32. TjB says:

    This is a brilliant poem. It is filled with depth and emotion. It shows the black man the way Sandburg saw him: lively, strong, and always searching. In Snadburg’s poem, the black man dreams of jungles, and remembers the shackles with spitefulness. He is a man trying to find identity (longing for the return to his native land). He is a fighter and a lover. Sandburg saw a man who was proud.

  33. David says:

    Carl Sandburg is WHITE! Damn white boys trying to be black….

  34. Ashley says:

    I think that this is wrong cause u can get in trouble for RACISM!!!
    So,NEVER EVER send me ne more of this crap!
    GOOD BYE

  35. Dave says:

    Many of you are taking his poem out of context. He is simply making an observation of the man utilizing the terminology of the day. In retrospect being a thinking people without racial sterotypes or hatred, we can look at it as it was intended…. An “in camera” observation by one of the great poets of the time period. My race happens to be from Europe (white), but we are all just men and women, not black and white men and women…. All human.

  36. J DOG says:

    i am a nigger

  37. Denise says:

    This poem is pure genius. If you did not think so, try reading it again. Sandburg’s intelligence is unlimited.

  38. Jessica L says:

    i did a little history on Carl after reading this poem. It turns out that what little he knew and saw of black people, he showed in the poem. He was not unbias. as a reporter he smudged facts in favor of the “system”. However, i feel that in this poem, he is trying to match the name with the steryotype. he cannot understand why these beautiful things are given such an ugly name. he was a man of his time. no to be reveared but not to be hated.

  39. Gerhard says:

    this poem does not segregate the black from all others. It celebrates the people, it does not purposely offend people of diffrent beliefs and it should not be seen as a statement of supperiority.
    So once again like many others black queen, you may be black, white, blue or green and find it offensive. But find a reason to be offened other then it’s controversial tilte.

  40. Shelby Graham says:

    Comming from Australia and livimg in the country I know alot of black people and I’m only 13 so heaps of the kids at school are aboriginals. This poem is moving and I can really relate to what Carl is saying because when you get to know these people as well as I do you see that this poem is egsactially like our natives are “as soft as cotton” Thanx 2 this poem I’m hell into poetry best thing I’ve ever read congrats keep it up

  41. Don McKee says:

    The other comments suggest the reflective quality of this powerful poem. it is a mirror in which we see ourselves.

  42. Frank Gibbard says:

    I never read this poet’s work before happening on this estimable website. I sought out his poem first because of it’s stark title which inevitably catches one’s eye in this day and age. Does anyone remember John Lennon (never thought racist I trust)using the “n” word about his ancestral Irish kith and kin in a song. He used this in context of the hateful original use of the word to link what was also meted out to his own folk in Britain. Sandburg was identifying with not disparaging black people, it is poor judgement if anyone thinks otherwise. This is surely a praiseworthy evocation of the worthiness of all people not to be treated as badly as our ancestors did the slaves of past history. And as a paleface ,or must I say, “white person” I think he touched on a shameful past in a good way in a good poem I hope and know black men and women can appreciate, as illustrated by comments I have read on site. Thanks USA for this opportunity for an old Englishman to contribute. Frank E Gibbard.

  43. KKK says:

    This poem is awesome. It really reflects my views.

  44. lequisha ladisha says:

    as a nagger i have only one thing to say….this shisnit is de bomb…”I AM THE NAGGER” …hel yea…this powem is a true resemblance to the physical properties of a nagger…

  45. michelle says:

    this poem is not racist and those who disagree would have no clue because that would mean you have no comprehension of what his poem is trying to point out.

  46. joel says:

    yo black queen, i too thought this poem was descriminating against us, but i read so many times that i see what da brothers pointin out. Read it again dawg and ill’s let yous figure it out.
    peace.

  47. Heather says:

    i liked the poem not only because of the words but i also liked the title!!!!! ROCK ON!!!!!!

  48. Chris says:

    Ok. all of you aren’t looking at this the way you should be. By saying “I am the Nigger”, he is saying that since poetry wasn’t accepted so easily as it is today, he says his life is bad. He is not being racist at all but showing respect for slaves and himself.

  49. Derek says:

    Personally, I believe he is just putting himself in the shoe’s of a Black man of those days. Because he say’s I AM the Nigger. He didn’t write it to offend, I believe he wrote it for creativity purposes only…

  50. Samsarai says:

    If you think Carl Sandburg is base enough to mire his euphuism just to regard any human with the degradation of a name-branding slur then I would suggest you read “the man with the broken fingers.”

    Carl Sandburg was a man who pushed the limits of his time and shoved the absurdities of his generations prejudice and hypocrisy back into the faces of those who chose to limit and belittle the human spirit regardless of race.

  51. MAGLEDON says:

    You have all put Carl Sandburg on the pedastal he deserves with your shallow comments. He is far beyond us. Read the poem, think, breathe and carry on with your life. Thats what I plan to do now.

  52. Keisha says:

    The first time I heard this poem it was being recited by a very popular and influential black actor on a documentaty called “The N Word”. When I first heard it I was so moved by the words because it obviously celebrated the beauty of our race and the strength of our people througout hard times. I understand that the word “nigger” can be taken offensively and that people can react without thought but when it comes to written words…it is very obvious to see what the poem was saying. I appreciate the comments after “Black Queen” because it is nice to know that people do study and do understand and not always just react without thought. As a Black Queen I believe she should research before commeting. Open your mind.

  53. Elise says:

    Sandburg is actually commenting on the richness of character of the black person….whose ancestors survived the turmoils of slavery. I believe he uses the word “nigger,” purposefully, but not in a derogatory sense. He is saying, “Here I stand, strong of body and character because of my tough life and ancestory, with all the potential to become whatever is humanely possible.” And yet he’s only a “nigger” because to others, only the color of his skin seems to matter and not the pride and strength or dreams he possesses. It’s actually a very striking social commentary. And I strongly disagree with the first comment by “Black Queen,” that any poem should be gotten rid of because it displays rascist or politically incorrect ideas. Poetry is meant to challenge our concepts. It makes me sad that she dismissed it so easily. Especially as a black woman, that she couldn’t see that it celebrated her strength and history. I wonder if she would have seen it differently if she hadn’t known initially that it was written by a white man….if she had thought a black man was the author.

  54. Bree says:

    This poem isn’t some racial tool of degradation. Black Queen, what you posted was incredibly ignorant. Sandburg was a sympathizer, not a slave driver. Learn something before you make anymore naive posts.

  55. Jazmin Simmons says:

    ok well this poem can be taken the wronge way if you read it the wronge way . this poem was made by a white man yes but that was the way it was. we can’t change the past. this poem doesn’t affend me, yes i’m black but i am not affended. fighting won’t help anything.
    just face the truth we WERE NIGGERS but soo long ago. it’s over.

  56. Black Queen says:

    Hey…this poem was not a poem to be published I take it very offensive…not onlly because i am black…because it is a rascist statement in general! wonder if i wrote a poem about His race cough cough! His family needs to get rid of this or the panthers are coming after you!!! black panthers that be! i am black look at me, have you ever seen anything as sexy as we after al we be the queen of all kissing!!! “JUICY LIPS” HOLLA AT CHA QUEEN! 1

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