The second poem that made an impact on me is a poem I read for my first advanced English class in ninth grade. The following year, I attempted to recite the poem as a member of Speech Club. I wasn’t good at speech, too shy for confidence, so choked and stood awkwardly at the front of the room. Since, I have simply not forgotten it, periodically reading it when I felt down. The second poem is one I heard three years earlier than that by Frost. In this vein, Carl Sandburg became my favorite poet.
What made the poem Chicago important to me is the sheer, raw feeling that can be read so easily. I like that this poem is a personification of the city of Chicago, but the poem reminds me of the freedom people have in simple humanity. People live, they breathe, they work to live, and they survive because they have no idea why they live. The characters in this poem have wildness; in the moments that people sit alone, or take a walk without company and just see the colors in the world around them, or when others’ judgments cease to have an effect on who people are—those are the times they are alive. The bottom line of the poem, perhaps, binge that no matter what happens, people are born with and are entitled to basic human dignity.
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the 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
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 a 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,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
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 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.
George and Willene Hendrick, eds. Selected Poems: Carl Sandburg. San Diego: Mariner Books, 1996. Print.