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About "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Essay 2017 4 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Literatur


Chicago by Carl Sandburg


Chicago is a literary artwork by Carl Sandburg, written in 1914 to describe the city of Chicago, its people and the good and bad therein. The piece is the prime of nine poems named the Chicago Poems. In this work, Sandberg takes the pain of explaining the aesthetic and industrial qualities of Chicago. He addresses the different kinds of jobs in the city, both legal and illegal and further criticizes those of dissenting opinion over it. Notably, it is an admission that indeed Chicago has numerous shortcomings, however, there are as many positive qualities about it and no one deserves to judge the city. In the end, the poet uses this critic to convey the message that Chicago must deal with its challenges regardless of its prevailing situation. Thus, this work seeks to analyze the poem Chicago about the qualities and themes of the city, which include Commerce, Security, as well as Resilience, the stylistic devices applied and the tone created by choice of words.


The choice of words by Carl signifies a lot about him, the themes of the city and his connections to it. The use of words such as “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" (Sandburg n.p), depict a personal approach to the poem and the city in real life. Precisely, it sets the tone for an emotional storm, describing Chicago. The kind of glorification accorded the city by the poet is immaterial and timeless, citing the working segment of the population, rather than the rich. He praises the struggling workers who despite all trouble, still look forward to life. The sentimentalism applied in this poem's tone is commendable and represents the real-life passion in the people of Chicago to keep fighting on and on "under the terrible burden of destiny" (Sandburg n.p). Chicago is painted brave, proud and valor.

Stylistic devices

The poem Chicago does not poses pronounced style of writing, especially rhyme. However, it does possess other devices such as personification, imagery, and metaphors. Personification is the attribution of human features to inanimate objects. Sandberg uses a lot of this style throughout the poem, making the city of Chicago very human. For instance, he writes in his opening stanza, “Hot butcher for the world, Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat” (Sandburg n.p) to portray the city as a person based on whatever activities its residents happen to undertake to impact significantly on the nation and the world.

Metaphors are used extensively in the poem, and these involve the use of figurative speech to enhance the points of a literal artwork. Sandburg compares the city to whatever activities its inhabitants do. He says it's "The Nation's Freight Handler" and "World's Hot Butcher" (Sandburg n.p). These are, but a few of the essential and most depended upon roles that this city’s citizens play in building the nation. Thus, pegging these responsibilities on the city and not the people is a very innovative stylistic device. For instance, the poem extends metaphors that realistically place many residents of Chicago as freight handlers and butchers who supply the nation and the world with beef related products.

Similes are also extensively used in the poem, perhaps to create a picture of the scene in Chicago for the readers. Similes allow for the comparison of unseen things to whatever may be universally recognizable. Sandburg writes “Cunning as a savage Pitting against the wilderness” relating the level of cunningness of the city and its people. He also relates the lapping of a dog to the fierceness of the city. Usually, when dogs are lapping for action, they tend to be very fierce and brave with fiery. Precisely, this can be perceived to mean that the residents of the city are very cunning, always trying to gain out of any opportunity and seek those real opportunities aggressively. Also, it depicts the nature of despair in the people, "Wilderness," which means they have to live in an unpredictable set up that has cops exhibiting cruelty when they should be offering safety, among many other faults.

Imagery is also a device used in the poem to paint the picture of how things were at the time, nearly 70 years since the inception of the city. The poem has phrases such as "Stormy, husky and brawling" which create the image of a very busy and loud city bustling with life and activity. Thus, it means that Chicago is mostly a densely populated city, full of both human and motor traffic. The lifestyle therein requires one to be hardened and ready to take on life the most laborious way it may present itself.



Carl Sandburg dresses this poem into hope. He describes the terrible circumstances within which ends have to be met by Chicago residents. He writes, “Bareheaded, Shoveling, Wrecking, Planning, Building, breaking, rebuilding, under the smoke, dust all over his mouth” (Sandburg n.p). Notably, this describes the extreme circumstances under which the residents have to toil and seek to grow their economic power, as well as meet their needs. Evidently, residents cannot go further and demonstrate this magnitude of resilience if they do not wake up and be driven by the audacity of hope. Regardless of the brutality on women, the murders, and prostitution depicted as your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys that the city still lives on. Mainly, it is a symbol of faith to withstand many of life’s pressures and vices so that people can forge forward daily. He depicts Chicago as a city with residents who won’t give up.


The poem poses many instances within which commerce is outstanding. The impression of having monopolized freights and hog products is scripted in the first lines, “Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler.” (Sandburg n.p) These lines in the poem outline the hog business as very steady and freight handling. These are then supported by tool making, wheat farming, and railroad careers among others. Thus, it is an indicator of people who are very enterprising and to perceive them as lazy would be an insult.

The poet writes that they are "Shoveling, Wrecking, Planning, Building, breaking, rebuilding" highlighting the day today activities that fend for the residents of Chicago (William 3). The use of imagery is very prevalent in depicting these activities and is embedded with a bravely emotional diction that sustains the poem. Accordingly, this correlates with the citizens who bravely fight for their earnings in the "wilderness," unpredictability of income and life. There is also a sign of unemployment and farming as a commercial trend depicted by prostitution and farm boys, respectively. The fact is supported by the line “I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys” (Sandburg n.p), which also complements the industrious nature of Chicago citizens such that despite the lack of formal employment for some people, there are money making activities that can be engaged in to seek sustenance against a harsh system.

Pride and Resilience

The poet is a die-hard, a proud citizen of Chicago. In his passion for the city, he describes its ill without shame by writing “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.” (Sandburg n.p) Personifying the city and its ill that has witnessed hunger among children and women and murders that depict a broken justice system because “Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.” (Sandburg n.p) Despite all this, he takes no shame or heads low for its; he instead warns that if anyone judges him for this and overlooks the greatness that is Chicago, then they won't be at peace. "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.” (Sandburg n.p) The hardships that make him and other city dwellers suffer and still be proud are a show of resilience in the face of adversity from this poem.


The poem Chicago, by Carl Sandburg, is a description of the life and other attributes in the city of Chicago. The writer portrays the city as industrious, proud, hopeful and resilient in the face of many drawbacks. The piece shows an emotional connection between the city and its dwellers. Chicago is depicted in the poem as being a lead freight handler, tool maker and hog butcher city, boasting of robust contributions to the nation. However, the city has its vices such as prostitution, a broken judicial system, as well as the law enforcement system. The writer gives his hope and pride in the city and is passionate about it to a personal level. Chicago is indeed a troubled and proud town; hence, if considered, it can overshadow the bad that is perceived of it.

Works Cited

Carl, Sandburg. ‘Chicago. Poetry Foundation, 23 Jan. 2014, Accessed 3 December 2017.

Alexander, William. "The limited American, the great loneliness, and the singing fire: Carl Sandburg's" Chicago Poems." American Literature 45.1 2015: 3.



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Loyola University Chicago
about chicago carl sandburg



Titel: About "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg