‘Flash Crimson’ was published in Carl Sandburg’s one of the best-known collections of poetry, Smoke and Steel, in 1920. The titular idea, the flash of “crimson,” a reference to the human blood or mortal remnants, is what the speaker is fortunate enough to find in this world. In this poem, this color symbolizes talent, virtues, and faith. One who has seen it may not fear any pain that troubles the mind. Like the speaker, they can boldly proclaim, “I who have seen the flash of this crimson, I ask God for the last and worst.”
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‘Flash Crimson’ by Carl Sandburg describes a speaker’s immovable faith in the divine, his talents, and, most importantly, the permanence of virtues.
In the poem ‘Flash Crimson,’ Sandburg begins with a pleading commentary on the hardships a speaker desires in life. He indirectly renounces all worldly desires and vanity. In his statements, the speaker’s assurance seems to come from his conviction that his afterlife will be the best of the best. Sandburg also explains that regardless of a person’s death, their legacy, deeds, kindness, and memories will remain on earth forever.
You can read the full poem here.
I SHALL cry God to give me a broken foot.
I shall keep one thing better than all else; there is the blue steel of a great star of early evening in it; it lives longer than a broken foot or any scar.
Sandburg’s poem ‘Flash Crimson’ begins with a confessional plea. The speaker says he would cry to God for a broken foot, a scar, or a slashed nose. Sandburg uses these lines to renounce worldly pleasures indirectly and to be “tested” to his fullest capacity. His speaker even wants to be in a place where there is no sunshine or “dogs” (a man’s best friend).
In the next lines, Sandburg hints at the Holy Trinity while discussing the concept of the afterlife. The speaker deliberates how despite all the hardships in his life, his afterlife would be “better than all else.” While describing the beauty of the prize that awaits in the afterlife, he calls its light to be similar to that of Venus. It lives longer than any scar he has to bear during his little time on earth.
The broken foot goes to a hole dug with a shovel or the bone of a nose may whiten on a hilltop-and yet-“and yet”-
I who have seen the flash of this crimson, I ask God for the last and worst.
Sandburg masterfully hints at the place he would later be buried in these lines. He calls the bones to be just fragments of a person that gets left behind at different places. However, “there is one crimson pinch of ashes after all.” Here, the speaker refers to the legacy a person leaves behind. This also references Sandburg’s future gravesite, where he would be buried. He was buried under a “Remembrance Rock,” which was a red granite boulder. No wind or rain could ever move the abstract remnants of human life.
The poet ends this piece with the same pleading tone he started with. His speaker asks God for the hardest tests as he believes in himself. He is the one who has seen “the flash of this crimson.” It means he has internalized his mortality and the inevitability of death.
The poem ‘Flash Crimson’ is written in the free-verse. It has ten lines that have not been distributed into different stanzas. The poem does not have a set rhyming scheme or a metrical pattern. Regarding the structure, the text consists of prosaic lines that are longer than the usual line lengths of poetry. The elongation of the lines emphasizes the conviction of the speaker’s ideas. Besides, the poem is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker.
Sandburg makes use of the following literary devices in ‘Flash Crimson.’
- Symbolism: Venus (the evening star) is used to symbolize love, beauty, and pleasure. It has been mentioned in the Bible a few times too. Some people hold the belief that the rising of the evening star was used as a prophecy for the coming of Jesus Christ.
- Metaphor: In the lines, “There is one crimson pinch of ashes left after all; and none of the shifting winds that whip the grass and none of the pounding rains that beat the dust, know how to touch or find the flash of this crimson”- the “crimson pinch of ashes” is used to refer to the last stain of blood in the remnants of the speaker. This also refers to the impermanence of life as if it’s a “flash” of “crimson” (blood).
- Anaphora: The poet begins the first four and the last two lines with the same words, “I shall” and “I.” The repetition implies that this is something the speaker is pondering on doing in the future. He lays emphasis on the fact that he has not asked God for hardships yet.
- Allusion: In the line, “And yet-of all “and yets” this is the bronze strongest-,” Sandburg seems to be referring to the “bronze strongest,” the Holy Trinity.
The main theme of ‘Flash Crimson’ is devotion to God. This is a testimonial piece of poetry that carries the poet’s strong emotions in regards to being a believer in God. His persona is pleading to God for more hardships in his life. It is because, according to the speaker, if he is tested, the process would refine his faith in the almighty. The speaker also awaits the happiness that has been promised in heaven in the line “I shall keep one thing better than all else.” Moreover, he mentions that even though a person’s body disintegrates and the soul leaves the body, their legacy, kindness, good deeds, and memories are left behind in this world. No rain or wind can ever move these abstract human remnants.
Another important theme of the poem is Internalizing one’s mortality. The speaker of this poem seems to have internalized the impermanence of human life and the short life span people have. By asking for the “last and worst,” the poet is essentially convinced that what will come after this life (in heaven) will be much better and the “best of all.”
‘Flash Crimson’ appears in Sandburg’s collection of poetry, Smoke and Steel. It was published in 1920. Carl Sandburg was born on January 6, 1878, in Galesburg. Remembrance Rock was his only novel that unravels the progress of achieving the American Dream over three decades. After he died in 1967, he was buried beneath a Remembrance Rock, which is a red granite boulder. He is regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century American poetry. Besides Smoke and Steel, his best-known collections include Chicago Poems (1916) and Cornhuskers (1918). Explore Carl Sandburg poems.
Carl Sandburg’s ‘Flash Crimson’ is a plea to God seeking more hardships and “tests” because the speaker wants the best for his afterlife. He has seen a flash of “crimson” that solidifies his faith in the divine.
Throughout the poem, the meaning of “flash crimson” is not explained. Rather, the speaker only acknowledges its existence. This makes the piece in itself open to interpretations. By saying “flash of crimson,” the speaker means the immortality of the soul, the legacy that a person leaves behind, the tomb made of granite, and the transience of human life, symbolized by “crimson.”
This piece taps on a number of themes that include devotion, faith, spirituality, immortality, death, and eternity. The main idea of the poem revolves around a speaker’s wish or various kinds of physical pains that would help him realize the importance of divine bliss.
The following poems are similar to the themes present in Carl Sandburg’s poem ‘Flash Crimson.’
- ‘I Am Christ’s’ by Leslie Alexis — This passionate poem explores a speaker’s religious devotion and celebrates the intention to join God in heaven.
- ‘Cold In The Earth’ by Emily Brönte — This poem is about suffering, struggle, and the loss of a loved one.
- ‘Prayer’ by Carol Ann Duffy — In this poem, Duffy describes the importance of prayer in the modern world.
You can also explore these devotional poems about God.