The poem is short, only two stanzas long, but accomplishes a great deal. Readers are likely to be left inspired and interested in the steel’s prayers by the end of ‘Prayers of Steel.’ It’s also quite interesting to relate the steel’s intentions and needs to those of human beings.
Explore Prayers of Steel
‘Prayers of Steel’ by Carl Sandburg is an interesting poem that explores steel’s dreams and features its prayers to God.
In the first lines of the poem, steel asks God to turn it into a crowbar so that it can pry loose old walls and make other changes for the better. It can be utilized and play an important role in the world. This is similar to the way a human being might pray to God for a useful and important role in life.
The second stanza includes the steel’s request to be made into a steel spike, another form that would be quite useful in the world.
You can read the full poem here.
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.
In the first lines of ‘Prayers of Steel,’ the speaker begins by addressing God. The lines takes the form of a prayer, one that asks God to transform the speaker into a new form. They wants to be a “crowbar” with the ability to “pry loose old walls” and “lift and loosen old foundations.” With this form, they can solve specific types of problems. This is emphasized in the second stanza, in which the speaker asks for another form, both of which involve steel and an anvil.
It becomes clear quite quickly that the speaker is the yet unformed steel. Its form has not been decided yet, but it hopes to be useful. This is an interesting notion, one that readers can directly relate to a human being’s prayer for a good life.
Using the phrase “Lay me on an anvil” the speaker putting themselves in God’s hands, asking to be changed. The use of “Let me” in lines three and four is also effective. It shows their passion and intentions.
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.
In the second stanza, the steel begins with the same line, a great example of a refrain and anaphora. It asks that God beat it into a “steel spike. This new form will allow it to “hold a skyscraper together” or become the “central girders,” fastened with “red-hot rivets.”
These prayers coalesce in a final statement: “Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.” In the simplest terms, it’s asking to be made effective and useful. It wants to be an integral part of the structure of things, benefiting the world in some way.
Structure and Form
‘Prayers of Steel’ by Carl Sandburg is a two-stanza poem that is separated into one set of four lines and one set of five. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They are written in what is known as free verse. But, the poet does use repetition, such as the use of “Lay me on an anvil, O God” in the first lines of both stanzas.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, the speaker is steel itself. It asks God for specific forms throughout the poem.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Let,” “lift,” and “loosen” in line four of the first stanza.
The themes at work in this poem are transformation and the purpose of life. The speaker is seeking out a life that’s worthwhile and meaningful.
The tone is passionate and pleading. The speaker, steel, wants God to transform it into a form that can be useful and important. It wants a role that’s truly helpful to the world.
The purpose is to show the importance of seeking out ways of benefiting the world. Sandburg creatively demonstrates this through his use of steel as the speaker.
The speaker is steel itself. It is personified with its prayers for its future which is focused on throughout the two stanzas. It’s asking God to be made into a specific, helpful form.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other poems by Carl Sandburg. For example:
- ‘Fog’ – a poem that expresses the author’s appreciation for the little events that occur in nature.
- ‘Killers’ – describes and decries the role of sixteen million, idealized men chosen to fight, kill, and die for a cause.
- ‘Theme in Yellow’ – written from the perspective of a ‘pumpkin,’ and describes how it turns into a Jack-O-Lantern during Halloween.