Sandburg's Chicago


Sandburg's "Chicago"

Poetry is the time old form of expression that allows one to explicate him or
herself using very little words. A single poetic line can provoke a variety of
emotions and send the reader to another place. Many scholars and English
professors will tell you poetry consists of rhyme and meter, form and rhythm.

They would be accurate in doing so. However, poetry can also be described as
condensed prose that has the ability to induce a plethora of images, emotions,
and thoughts into one's mind, as does the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg. The
poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg offers a great example of how poetry is in fact
condensed prose. The poem, published in 1914, tells about the wicked,
bareheaded, and husky city of Chicago, Illinois. Rather than sticking to the
traditional closed form of poetry, Sandburg's Chicago departs to a more open
form that includes some traditional uses of capitalization as well as lines that
go along with the natural divisions of phrases and sentences. Instead of using
any sort of metrical pattern, Chicago repeats words and phrases, such as
"They tell me" in lines 6-10, to create its form. This poem can be
considered condensed prose because it is telling a story of Chicago. One could
get just as much, if not more, out of this poem as one would by reading prose
about the city. A major reasons the reader is able to extract so much from
poetry is the strong use of imagery, or language that evokes a physical
sensation produced by one of the five senses-sight, hearing, taste, touch, or
smell (Literature pg. 629). The poem Chicago again provides a great example of
this. The mere word "Chicago" triggers an image in most of our minds.

We picture industries and machines because most of us know that Chicago is a
large industrial center. The first five lines of Chicago are describing the
city. The images that we conjure up in our mind when we hear the phrases,
"Hog Butcher for the World" or "Tool Maker, Stacker of

Wheat" are what we are going to associate with the city of Chicago.

Sandburg continues to provoke the readers sense of sight as he writes, "On
the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger" and
"Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted
against the wilderness". One immediately visualizes hungry women and
children as well as a ferocious dog about to attack. The best use of imagery in

Chicago begins on line 25. 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! A vivid picture of a man appears in the readers'
mind. He's a young man, filthy from his daily work. The reader can actually hear
the young man laughing, not caring that he is dirty. This sort of imagery is
what poets use to say very much with very few words. It is not deniable that
poetry has the ability to evoke images and sounds into one's mind. However,
different people may conjure up different images upon reading a statement in a
poem. As I read the poem Chicago, I drew images in my mind of giant smokestacks
and men with sledgehammers. Though I was able to come up with these images, the
fact that I have never been to Chicago hampered my ability to accurately portray
the city in my mind. Residents of the city would come up with different images
than me due to the fact that they have seen the city and probably have specific
buildings and people in there mind already that the poem reminds them of. Also,
if you were to mention the word "Chicago" to a sports fan then he or
she would automatically think of the Cubs, Whitesox, Bears, Blackhawks, or Bulls
(each of the cities major sports teams). A picture of Wrigley Field or the sound
of Mike Ditka could enter ones mind. A music lover may automatically begin to
hear his or her favorite Smashing Pumpkins song (a native band of Chicago) upon
mention of the word Chicago. Obviously it is a persons background that will
determine what images he or she draw from a poem. Poetry has the

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