The Past is a Bucket of Ashes..

This poem was written by Carl Sandburg in 1922…do you think it applies to any society today?…have things become better or worse?…is this a symbol of any city any nation?
Read it out loud…it has an astonishing timbre to it…
I will read it out loud over on FB but the clips are too short to do justice to it

The past is a bucket of ashes.”

THE WOMAN named To-morrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was

The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was

It has happened before.
Strong men put up a city and got
a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women
to warble: We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was

And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
there were rats and lizards who listened
… and the only listeners left now
… are … the rats … and the lizards

And there are black crows
crying, “Caw, caw,”
bringing mud and sticks
building a nest
over the words carved
on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was

The only singers now are crows crying, “Caw, caw,”
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards

The feet of the rats
scribble on the door sills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats

And the wind shifts
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was
…Carl Sandburg

The entire poem made me shiver, but the very poignant last line, reminiscent of Ozymandias says it all

Golden Girl by Janis Zroback


  • Susan Duffey
    Susan Duffeyabout 1 year ago

    It is already happening due to war, fire and floods but on the other hand there is a strong movement for conservation , heritage and history.

  • I agree, but it feels as if it were written yesterday instead of almost a hundred years ago….
    How much has changed? A lot in some ways and in others, nothing at all…thanks so much for your comment Susan..

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Beatrice Cloake
    Beatrice Cloakeabout 1 year ago

    Great poem Janis!
    It does not matter when it was written, life is as such.
    We all come and go.
    Nothing is forever!
    History repeats itself in different form and fashion.
    Roman empire fell and many more since :)

  • I just find it so incredible that after all this time man can still behave like a barbarian and social media is sure showing it up…being able to hide behind a computer is bringing out the reptile brain in so many ways…thanks so much for the feedback Beatrice…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Robin King
    Robin Kingabout 1 year ago

    As far as I’m concerned, the only trait more powerful than human arrogance is the hard-wired drive for the human species to survive. And survival is rarely decorous and empathetic.

    Powerful poem and intriguing image!

  • RB had both this and another portrait of mine featured a while ago under wild women…I added her because of the line in the poem referring to golden girls…
    I find with the arrogance on social media it’s more entitlement that seems to pervade it, and the anonymity that comes with using the net…there bullying and threatening and waging war on innocent people goes on and increases every day…the reptile brain is still around and it’s very powerful…thanks so much Robin..I always appreciate your input..

    – © Janis Zroback

  • WhiteDove Studio kj gordon
    WhiteDove Stud...about 1 year ago
    Nothing beside remains.Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.The lone and level sands stretch far away.
  • It’s one of my faves too KJ…such a metaphor especially for the 2nd world war…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • eoconnor
    eoconnorabout 1 year ago


  • I totally agree Liz…thank you so much for the comment..

    – © Janis Zroback