"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg



Thesis Statement: The main purpose of this poem is to defend the common accusations that are directed toward the city of Chicago. The speaker addresses the corruption of the city, which shows, his honesty, but also points out the flaws of other cities and their people. Another point the speaker says is that even though Chicago is corrupted and bad on the outside, it still has good people on the inside.




Carl Sandburg's poem illustrates Chicago as a dreary and dark place where corruption and violence reigns.
Carl Sandburg's poem illustrates Chicago as a dreary and dark place where corruption and violence reigns.


Contents
  1. Poem
  2. History of Poem and Poet
  3. Paraphrase of Poem
  4. Description of Poetic Structure
  5. Description of Poetic Devices
  6. Definition of Synecdoche
  7. Analysis of Poem
  8. References

Poem



"Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation Freight
Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas
lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On
the faces of women and children I have seen the
marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those
who sneer at this my city, and I give them back
the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head
singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong
and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job
on job, here is the tall bold slugger set vivid against
the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action,
cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness.
Bareheaded,

Shoveling,
Wrecking,
Planning,
Building, breaking, Rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing
with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a
young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the
pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player
with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation."

--Carl Sandburg [1916]


History of Poem and Poet



Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg was the son of Swedish immigrants. He was the second of seven children and was born in Galesburg, Illinois on January 6, 1878. His original last name was Johnson, but since it was such a popular name, his father changed the family name to Sandburg. After having dropped out of school in the 8th grade, he worked several different jobs. In 1897 he became a hobo and traveled to West Kansas. While he was a hobo he learned many fold songs. This year of joblessness influenced him in his writing career. He wrote many poems showing the great contrast between the rich and the poor. I n 1898 he involved himself in the Spanish-American War, that same year he spent time in Puerto Rico. After the War he went to Lombard College and became a member of the Poor Writer's Club, an organization of writers and poets who criticize and read literature and poems. This organization was founded by a Lombard professor, Philip Green Wright. He wrote poems for two years and then published his first book of verse, In Reckless Ecstasy, in 1904. Two more volumes, Incidentals and The Plaint of a Rose, were written in the next two years. He was not awarded a diploma from Lombars College. In 1907 he organized the Social Democratic Pary. A year later he married Lilian Steichen, whom he met while in Milwaukee. After starting a family he took a job as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. In 1914 some of his poems were published in Poetry magazine. In 1916 his book Chicago Poems was published. This book contained the fame poem "Chicago". In 1918 he published Cornhuskers and in 1919 he wrote a searching analysis of Chicago race riots. He died in 1967.

Dates to Note

1871- The Great Chicago Fire
1886- Haymarket Riot
1893- The World's Columbian Exposition
1916- Chicago Poems are published
1919- The Chicago Race Riot

History Of The Poem

The poem "Chicago" was published in 1916. The first reactions to the poem were both good and bad. The good reviews was that it was good poetry and an interesting take on Chicago. The bad ones involved people saying that they were offended by the poem and the points that the poem makes about Chicago. "Chicago" established Sandburg's career as the "Chicago Poet."


Paraphrase of Poem





Long Paraphrase
Chicago has a lot of titles from its many slaughterhouses and railroads.
I know Chicago has evil because I have seen the prostitutes luring the innocent men. I know Chicago is bad because I see people getting away with murder. I know Chicago is terrible because I see women’s and children’s sad, hungry faces. Having said that show me a city that is perfect, and happy. Chicago is not a wimpy city, Chicago is a city ready to face anything that is thrown at it. Chicago is in a constant cycle of rebuilding and destroying but it never gives up. Under the smoke and dust of Chicago, under all that bad, that places them in the history books, there is good. Chicago is destined to be evil but the people of Chicago just keep on rebuilding. Chicago is young, and proud, and a city that is still learning how to cope with all these atrocities.



Description of Poetic Structure



The poetic structure consists of multiple descriptive lists. The lists of adjectives describing Chicago, give a more dramatic effect to the poem and creates an image in the reader's head. Each adjective characterizes the essence of what Chicago as a city is known for and really is. Towards the beginning of the poem, there are sets of three lines for each stanza. Again, each stanza illustrates parts of Chicago that are seen as bad and criminal, but each time the speaker responds with honesty. The speaker addresses these issues and does not lie about the truth. The stanzas become two line sets near the end of the poem. These stanzas are not emphasizing the idea of Chicago, but mentioning how Chicago is more underneath the surface. The change in lines per stanza reflects the change of the speakers attitude from a defensive voice to a more fond and proud voice for the city. The poem also ends with a quatrain, which contains another list of words that label Chicago as a city. This time, the author is not describing what Chicago is on the outside, but what it is also underneath, while still using the same basic words as the beginning.

Description of Poetic Devices



Synecdoche: Using a part to refer to the whole, or the whole to refer to a part (click here for more info).

Repetition: The repeated use of the same word or word pattern as a rhetorical device.
Example: "Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man
laughs.."(lines 32-35)


Imagery: descriptive language that evokes sensory experience (in any or all sense modes), and is intended to make the reader feel more interested and more emotionally involved in the work by creating a mental image of the subject.
Example: "Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness."(lines 25-26)

Metaphor: language that directly compares seemingly unrelated subjects.
Example: "Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness."(lines 25-26)

Analysis of Poem




Thesis Statement: The main purpose of this poem is to defend the common accusations that are directed toward the city of Chicago. The speaker addresses the corruption of the city, which shows his honesty, but also points out the flaws of other cities and their people. The speaker also points out that even though Chicago is corrupt and bad on the outside, it still has good people on the inside.

The title of the poem, "Chicago", gives the reader instant knowledge of what the poem is going to be about, as does the book it was originally in, creatively entitled Chicago Poems. The title gives you the impression that the poem will be just as simple. Although the poem uses simple literary devices such as listing and repeating, it makes a much more complicated point about Chicago. Chicago has always been known to be a very corrupt city, just look at the list of names in Chicago politics that finished in jail times. Al Capone's famous gang in the 1920's led many people to believe Chicago was a gangster town. At the same time Chicago has a lot of heart, after the great Chicago fire in 1871 you would think it would still be a ghost town today, but it isn't they just rebuilt it. This was referenced in the poem many times for ex. "Wrecking, Planning, Building, breaking, Rebuilding, Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth..."(27-32)

The poem Chicago is unrhymed, otherwise known as blank verse, instead Carl Sanburg uses repetition to get people into the rythm of the poem. The poem is divided into 3 main parts. In the first and second part Carl Sandburg recalls various conversations with different people about his hometown Chicago. He lists the various nickname and stories he has heard about Chicago and admits that there is truth to them. In the 3rd part Carl Sandburg defends his great city with heart. The word repeated changes as you transition through the poem. In the beginning it is "They, and They" (7,10), than it is "under"(32) and then it is "laughing"(36). The "they" is the other people who have said theses things about Chicago. The "under" is all the goo underneath. The "laughing" is moving on and rebuilding.

The first part and second part mention various nicknames and stories for and about Chicago, such as "Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of Big Shoulders "Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of Big Shoulders "(1-6). These nicknames made the city more human as if he'd calling the city names, which is what you do when you get into a fight with someone. Making the city more human makes it less perfect too, since humans are open to mistakes. These nicknames and other phrases in the poem are historical references to Chicago. "Hog Butcher for the World"(1) makes reference to the many slaughter houses in Chicago in 1916. During The World Colombian Exposition many people went to visit these infamous houses. Another reference is "player with railroads and d the Nation Freight Handler"(3,4). Chicago used to be major railway station. "City of the Big Shoulders" (6) is a reference to Chicago's status as the first city with a skyscraper. One of the most obvious references is to the devastating Chicago Fire that took place in 1871, it is referenced when he says "Wrecking, Planning, Building, breaking, Rebuilding, Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth..."(27-32). Carl Sandburg uses the pattern of listing of short phrases and words that make the poem, fast, quick, and devastating, as is Chicago. The listing is also used to emphasize the idea of Chicago.

Throughout the second part he talks about Chicago through prostitutes luring innocent farm boys (7-9). This implies that Chicago lures good people from the country and makes them bad. He also talks about mobsters who kill and aren't punished for it (10-12). This poem also is a reference to Corrupt Chicago politics, this can still be seen today by the recent arrest of governor Rod Blagojevich. The mentions of hungry people, describe Chicago as a poor place (13-15).

The third part says "Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs, Laughing..."(32-40). to talk about the good that there is to be found in Chicago. The heart to rebuild after disastrous fires. The heart to think that they can and are better despite what people say. This poem uses metaphor to describe Chicago as a boxer who keeps on fighting and is proud in his strength, and doesn't realize, can't or won't realize that they will be surpassed.

An interesting thing to note about the poem is that thought the whole poem it is addressing Chicago, acting as if Chicago is a person, using personal pronouns such as "you"(7). This goes back also to the nicknames, usually humans have nicknames. This lets the city be open to more mistakes, and get over them and fix them because the city is only human. The entire poem uses synecdoche (click on synecdoche for more info) to describe Chicago without ever directly describing the city. This lets the author get his feelings across without being blunt.

Overall this poem uses such literary devices as listing and repetition, humanization, imagery, and metaphor to get the author's opinion as a resident of the City of the Big Shoulders about his home across.

References



Brantz, Dorothee. "Recollecting the Slaughterhouse." Cabinet Magazine. 18 Nov.
2008 <http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/4/slaughterhouse.php>.

"Carl Sandburg - Biography." Carl Sandburg - Chicago Poems. 1998. 17 Nov. 2008
<http://carl-sandburg.com/biography.htm>.

"Carl Sanburg Criticism." E-Notes. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://www.enotes.com/
poetry-criticism/sandburg-carl>.

Carl Sandburg. Photograph. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://www.wwu.edu/depts/skywise/
cosmo/sandburg.jpg>.

Sandburg, Carl. "Chicago." Chicago Poems. N.p.: n.p., 1916.

"The Birth of Chicago Union Stock Yards." Slaughterhouse to the World. 18 Nov.
2008 <http://www.chicagohs.org/history/stock.html>.

"Timeline of Chicago History." Wikipedia. 12 Aug. 2008. 17 Nov. 2008
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Chicago_history>.

Velasquez, Phil. Chicago Skyline. Photograph. 20 Nov. 2008
<http://www2.colum.edu/cps/demo/portfolio.php>.

"WordNet Search." WordNet. 2006. Princeton University. 11 Dec. 2008
<http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=repetition>.