Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chicago


         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
         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 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,
              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


Chicago first appeared in the collective consciousness 100 years ago this month in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine. Carl Sandburg's ode to his adopted city — having moved from Milwaukee in 1912 — speaks of its hardscrabble citizens earning a buck in the growing midwest metropolis in a frank yet endearing manner. The tone and style of Chicago were replicated by Sandburg in Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918) and Smoke and Steel (1920).

Nearly 100 years later in 2013, an undocumented Carl Sandburg poem was discovered in his archives at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Sadly, it reflects on the Chicago of today and echoes one of the lines from Chicago — the need by some to hold A Revolver and the gunman free to kill again.