Materialism conveys the metaphysical concept that our world

Sancha Gonzalez

January 18th, 2018

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Humanities III, Period 6

“Four Preludes” Essay


Joining the Ashes of
Time: Materialism in the “Four Preludes”


The Minoans, a society forgotten from
ancient Indo-European culture, will forever be lost within the bleak pages of
history textbooks despite their heavy impact on later Greek civilization.  Their economic system and language were so
innovative and advanced for their time that they became the prototypes of what
the ancient Greeks would later adopt as their own system and language. Yet,
with all their accomplishments and influence they do not share the same high
profile as the Greeks do. This civilization exemplifies the materialistic
perspective Carl Sandburg projects on his poem, “The Four Preludes on
Playthings of the Wind: The Past is a Bucket of Ashes”. The poem describes a
once almighty civilization falling a victim to time and the destruction that
accompanies it until the mighty fall into irrelevancy. Materialism conveys the
metaphysical concept that our world consists of matter and change. Carl Sandburg’s, “The Four Preludes,” demonstrates various
materialistic notions through the continuity of change, the unattainable desire
of becoming the Übermensch, and the inevitability of death, presenting the
insuperable battle of humanity against time.

            Sandburg proposes a materialistic
outlook on the poem through his constant reminders of the inescapability of
change. The first stanza describes a woman named Tomorrow fixing her hair as
she explains that her “grandmother, Yesterday, is gone…Let the dead be dead”
(8-9). This quote presents the idea that the past may depart from our lives, thus
it signifies the theme of change. The familial relationship between Tomorrow
and Yesterday show how the present, past, and future still relate to one
another. Thus our actions and events in the past have the ability to change
what will occur in the future, and in that sense we will never truly lose the
past. Time is progressive, it changes and adjusts, as it marches along to its
own beat, and sometimes these developments will affect us or the material
things we hold onto so dearly. Much like how the world we live in undergoes
changes that come with each time period. In the same way, the civilization described
in the poem has “doors twisted on broken hinges” in its gateway (17).  The word broken suggests that there was a
time in which the hinges were fully functional and brand new until something
broke down the perfect state of the item. Nothing can withstand the test of
time or stay in mint condition forever as everything will inevitability
transform into something else or be broken down from the elements. Materialists
believe in change because the world naturally follows this pattern over the
course of time and thus an explanation on why and how something transforms
emerges. But even if we believe this notion to be true, we as humans will stop
at nothing to try and prevent these changes. 
Instead of accepting and embracing the adaptations the world gives, we
become defensive because what we perceive to be unfamiliar we categorize it as
a threat. But time stops for nobody, and this somewhat graspable concept fails
to make it into our stubborn minds as we try to defy time and the changes that
go hand in hand with it.  

             The people depicted in “Four
Preludes” consistently try, but fail to surpass other civilizations through
their unreachable goal to become the Übermensch, a term conceived by Nietzsche,
in order to defy the effects that come along with time. The Übermensch (Superman)
embodies the concept that human beings can be their own God through their
ability to choose what good or bad means and their belief in altruism. After
the citizens of the nation built their city the women then sang, “we are the
greatest city, the greatest nation, nothing like us ever was” (26-28). With
this proclamation, the people exhibit the traits of the Übermensch, as they
create their own reality. By singing that they transcend other nations they
dictate the definition of good or bad, and because of their authority what they
say must be the truth. However, this quote was not said by the men who built
the city but by the “paid singers to sing and women to warble” (24-25).  This displays the insecurity the men must
feel, as they pay to create the image of a great nation instead of the
inhabitants truly believing in it. Nietzsche later explained why humanity found
the obtainment of the Übermensch so unachievable, for we as a whole lack
complete trust in our decisions. The citizens do not whole-heartedly believe
that they are the greatest city ever, therefore they have not and will continue
to not achieve Übermensch. Acting on the characteristics of Nietzsche’s
Superman can be perceived as the natural defense humanity has when dealing with
the thought of the inevitability of destruction that steamrolls its way towards
all of us. Our playing of God acts as a safety net for us to fall on when we
try to hide our fear about what time may deliver.



has happened before , strong men put a city and got a nation together”

cycle of creation and destruction