Chicago Poem By Carl Sandburg Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English


The poem “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg is one of praise and defense. It was made available in his book “Chicago Poetry. He expresses his admiration for the city of “Chicago,” which is given no less treatment. To those who disparage his city with prejudice, he responds with teeth for teeth.

The poem itself is a good representation of middle-class life in Chicago at the time. The city is frequently perceived as being darker due to issues like prostitution, malnutrition, and killings in urban areas. The poet asserts that Chicago is still a thriving city despite the darkness.

About the poet

Carl August Sandburg was an American poet, author, and editor who received three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. With his books of collected poems, such as Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1922), Sandburg was considered during his lifetime as a key figure in modern literature (1920).

At the time of his death in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson said that Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America and more than the poet of its power and brilliance. This was likely due to the breadth of his experiences, which connected him with so many facets of American life. He represented America.

Line 1-5

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:

The poem’s opening five lines are addressed to the city. Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads, and Nation’s Freight Handler are just a few of the nicknames he gives that refer to numerous professions and the industries it is known for. Also, the poem gives the city a persona of a young guy who is brawling, husky, and has broad shoulders. The stanza portrays the city as having a massive and slightly rugged character.

Line 6-9

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.

Those are the individuals that condemned Chicago for its flaws. The words “You,” “I,” and “them” give the impression that this is a dramatic monologue. The city is described as “wicked” by the individuals the poet addresses as “they” because painted women (prostitutes) entice young boys to accompany them.

The poet agrees because he has personally witnessed this behavior. Then they label it crooked since it allows roughs in the city to carry weapons openly and commit murder, and the poet appears to agree. They also describe the city as ruthless since it has caused women and children to go hungry, and the poet agrees because he has personally witnessed it in the lives of women and children.

Line 10-13

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,

The poet responds in this paragraph to those who mock his town and solely discusses its drawbacks. In the lines preceding it, he acknowledges that his city has flaws. In these lines, he tells the critics that his city is more than what they think it is and no less than any other city. He requests that they take him to a confident city that is powerful, shrewd, and full of energy.

In the next line, Chicago is portrayed as a baseball player who routinely hits for power, particularly home runs and doubles amid the less energetic and dynamic cities. He also compares Chicago to a “fierce dog” that is constantly ready to strike and has a tongue that is “lapping for action.” He also describes him as a “cunning barbarian” who is prepared to battle his way through the wilderness.

Line 14-18

   Building, breaking, rebuilding,

In this stanza, the poet compares the city to a construction worker who is bareheaded. It represents how the city is booming and expanding daily. The expression “shoveling, wrecking, planning, building, breaking, and rebuilding” describes the struggle Chicago underwent to broaden its horizons. “Bareheaded” shows how the city had to struggle on its own without assistance.

Line 19-22

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,

Chicago is further described in this paragraph as a man at work. It has developed a sense of humor despite all the manual labor, smoke, and dust. It chuckles like a young guy who laughs without giving much thought to the load that fate has forced upon him without giving it much thought.

The city chuckles, gaining strength from an ignorant warrior who has never lost a battle. A deeper personal perspective on the city may be gained from the verses “under his wrist is the pulse” and “under his ribs, the heart of the people.”

Line 23

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.

Overall, the line shows Chicago as a joyful young guy who has learned to be happy no matter what. “Stormy, husky, brawling laughter” paints a rough picture of the city. To summarise, the words “Hog Butcher,” “Tool Maker,” “Stacker of Wheat,” “Player with Railroads,” and “Freight Handler” have abstained from embracing their genuine identities as working-class men with their true appearance and temperament.