Carl Sandburg was an American poet,biographer, novelist, journalist, songwriter,editor, and author of childrens books. Born Carl August Sandburg, in 1878 toSwedish immigrants August and ClaraAnderson Sandburg, in Galesburg, Illinois,the second of seven children. He was forced to leave school at age thirteento help supplement the family income, andspent a decade working a variety of jobs.
He delivered milk, laid bricks, threshedwheat in Kansas, and shined shoes inGalesburgs Union Hotel before traveling asa hobo in 1897. His experiences working and travelinggreatly influenced his writing and politicalviews. He saw first-hand the sharp contrastbetween rich and poor, a dichotomy thatinstilled in him a distrust of capitalism.
After spending three and a half months travelingthrough Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado onthe railroad, Sandburg volunteered for service inthe Spanish-American War in 1898, and served inPuerto Rico. As a returning veteran he was offered free tuitionat Lombard College in Galesburg, which heaccepted. At the college he joined the Poor Writers Club, aninformal literary organization whose membersmet to read and criticize poetry.
He studied there for four years but left in1902 before graduating. It was at Lombardthat Sandburg began to develop his talentsfor writing, encouraged by the scholar PhilipGreen Wright. On a small hand press in the basement of hishome, Wright set the type for Sandburgs firstpublications: In Reckless Ecstasy (1904),Incidentals (1905), The Plaint of a Rose(1905), and Joseffy (1906).
During that time Sandburg grew increasinglyconcerned with the plight of the Americanworkers. In 1907 he worked as an organizer for theWisconsin Social Democratic party, writingand distributing political pamphlets andliterature. At party headquarters in Milwaukee,Sandburg met Lilian Steichen, whom hemarried in 1908.
First in Wisconsin and later in Chicago,Sandburg worked as a reporter for a numberof newspapers, including the Milwaukee DailyNews and later the small, left-wing Day Book,in which appeared a handful of his earlypoems. Sandburg soon gained recognition whenHarriet Monroe, editor of the progressiveliterary periodical, Poetry: A Magazine ofVerse, published six of his poems in 1914.
During this time Sandburg cultivated anumber of literary friendships and latergained the attention of Henry Holt andCompany, the firm that was to publish hisfirst significant volume of poetry, ChicagoPoems (1916). This work and the five collections thatsucceeded it over the course of the followingtwo decades contributed to Sandburgs rise topopular esteem, making him one of the mostrecognized American poets of the first half ofthe twentieth century.
Apart from his poems, Sandburg was alsoknown for his fanciful childrens tales,Rootabaga Stories (1922). The bookprompted Sandburgs publisher, AlfredHarcourt, to suggest a biography of AbrahamLincoln for children. Sandburg researched and wrote for threeyears, producing not a childrens book, but atwo-volume biography for adults. His Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years,published in 1926, was Sandburgs firstfinancial success.
He devoted the next several years tocompleting four additional volumes, AbrahamLincoln: The War Years, for which he won thePulitzer Prize in 1940. Sandburg continued his prolific writing,publishing more poems, a novel,Remembrance Rock (1948), a second volumeof folk songs, an autobiography, Always theYoung Strangers (1953) Sandburgs Complete Poems won him asecond Pulitzer Prize in 1951.
Sandburg was an eminent figure of the―Chicago Renaissance‖ and the eraencompassing World War I and the GreatDepression. On its initial publication in 1916, his ChicagoPoems was greeted with mixed reaction, withmany reviewers finding its subject matterstartling and its prosaic poetry oddlystructured. Nevertheless, the volume proved a career-making event and is generally regarded as oneof Sandburgs finest poetic achievements.
―The free rhythm of Mr. Carl Sandburg are a fineachievement in poetry. No one who reads ChicagoPoems with rhythm particularly in mind can fail torecognize how much beauty he attains in thisregard.‖ (Francis Hackett. Horizons (Huebsch-Viking), 1918.―Buried deep within the He man, the hairy, meateating Sandburg, there is another Sandburg, asensitive, naïve, hesitating Carl Sandburg, aSandburg that hears the voice of the wind overroofs of house at night, a Sandburg that wandersoften alone through grim city street on winternights, a Sandburg that knows and understandsthe voiceless cry in the heart of the farm girl ofthe plains when she comes to the kitchen doorand sees for the first time the beauty of prairiecountry…‖ –Sherwood Anderson, Bookman, 1921.
By mid-century his folksy and regionalapproach was overshadowed by the allusiveand cerebral verse of such poets as EzraPound and T. S. Eliot. While Sandburg continued to depict ordinarypeople in their everyday settings, other poetswere gaining critical acclaim for internalizingand codifying experiences. Despite the fact that it was honored with aPulitzer Prize in 1951, Sandburgs CompletePoems elicited little more than briefcommentary on the occasion of itspublication; few took the opportunity toevaluate the whole of Sandburgs poeticcareer.
In order to comprehend more of Sandburg’sworks in Chicago Poems, it is helpful to alsoknow Chicago from its historical perspective. Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1837. As the site of the Chicago Portage, the cityemerged as an important transportation hubbetween the eastern and western UnitedStates.
Chicagos first railway, Galena and ChicagoUnion Railroad, opened in 1848, which alsomarked the opening of the Illinois andMichigan Canal. The canal allowedsteamboats and sailing ships on the GreatLakes to connect to the Mississippi River.The first station at Wells Street was built by the Galena andChicago Union Railroad, the first railroad in Chicago, openedin 1848.
River steamers at Pittsburg, with coal barges for theMississippi river - this shows a peculiar Americantype of steamboat, the sternwheeler, speciallyserviceable for navigating shallow rivers.
A flourishing economy brought residents fromrural communities and immigrants abroad toChicago and Midwestern cities. Manufacturing and retail sectors becamedominant among Midwestern cities, influencingthe American economy, particularly inmeatpacking, with the advent of therefrigerated rail car and the regional centralityof the citys Union Stock Yards.Refrigerated Car,Illinois, 1893
In the 1850s Chicago gained national politicalprominence as the home of Senator StephenDouglas, the champion of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and "popular sovereignty"approach to the issue of the spread ofslavery. These issues also helped propel anotherIllinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, to the nationalstage. Lincoln was nominated in Chicago forthe nations presidency at the 1860Republican National Convention and went onto defeat Douglas in the general election,setting the stage for the American Civil Warwhich was declared in April,1861.
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871destroyed a third of the city, including theentire central business district, Chicagoexperienced rapid rebuilding and growth.The Great Chicago Fire,1871
Montauk Building was built in 1882 inChicago and demolished in 1902; it wasthe first building to be called a―skyscraper‖During its rebuildingperiod, Chicagoconstructed the worldsfirst skyscraper in1882, using steel-skeleton construction.
During this time huge numbers of newimmigrants from Europe and from theeastern states migrated to Chicago. Of the total population in 1900 not less than77.4% were foreign-born, or born in theUnited States of foreign parentage. Germans,Irish, Poles, Swedes and Czechs made upnearly two-thirds of the foreign-bornpopulation. In 1900, whites were 98.1% of the cityspopulation.
The 1920s also saw a major expansion inindustry. The availability of jobs attractedblacks from the South. Between 1910 and1930, the black population of Chicagodramatically increased from 44,103 to233,903. Arriving in the hundreds of thousands duringthe Great Migration, the newcomers had animmense cultural impact. It was during thiswave that Chicago became a center for jazz,with King Oliver leading the way.
Grand Central Stationwas opened on Dec 8, 1890.
By 1910 railroad cars were hauling 95% of the freighthandlers through the city, and 1,300 passenger trainscarried 175,000 people in and out Chicago every day.The Loop elevated tracks, around 1900
―MAMIE beat her head against the bars of a little Indianatown and dreamed of romance and big things offsomewhere the way the railroad trains all ran.She could see the smoke of the engines get lost downwhere the streaks of steel flashed in the sun andwhen the newspapers came in on the morning mailshe knew there was a big Chicago far off, where allthe trains ran…‖Carl Sandburg, Chicago Poems
The Court of Honor, Chicago’s Word Fair,1893, itsWhite City with the Court of Honor inspired manycity planning projects nationwide.
The Court of Honor of the World’s Columbian Exhibition, 1893
The picture of the Ferris Wheel at the 1893 Chicago World Fair21st Chicago
The Chicago Board of Trade,established in 1848.Chicago Board ofTrade, 21st Century
The trading room of theBoard of Trade, 1903Trade floor of the Board ofTrade, 21st century
―We struck the home-trail now, and in a fewhours were in that astonishing Chicago—a citywhere there always rubbing the lamp, andfetching up the genii, and contriving andachieving new impossibilities. It is hopeless forthe occasional visitor to try to keep up withChicago—she outgrows his prophecies fasterthan he can make them. She is always anovelty; for she is never the Chicago you sawwhen you passed through the last time.‖Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)
Chicago Poems, with its humanistic renderingof urban life, place descriptions and acollection of character sketches, provides astark but idealized view of the working class. Drawing from his working class roots,Sandburg builds a raw-boned poetry thatviolates the poetic norms of the time -- hecasts off inherited poetic diction and formand adopts an exuberant free verse.
Sandburg does not like to experiment withcomplicated syntax and images, but ratherprefers to give the reader something concreteand direct. ―Chicago,‖ the centerpiece of the work andone of Sandburgs most celebrated poems,not only portrays the faults of the Midwesternmetropolis but also praises what Sandburgconsidered the joy and vitality integral to lifethere.
CHICAGOHOG Butcher for the World,Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,Player with Railroads and the Nations Freight Handler;Stormy, husky, brawling,City of the Big Shoulders:They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for Ihave seen your painted women under the gas lampsluring the farm boys.And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, itis true I have seen the gunman kill and go free tokill again.And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On thefaces of women and children I have seen the marksof wanton hunger.And having answered so I turn once more to those whosneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneerand say to them:Come and show me another city with lifted head singingso proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job onjob, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against thelittle soft cities;
CHICAGOHOG Butcher for the World,Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,Player with Railroads and the Nations Freight Handler;Stormy, husky, brawling,City of the Big Shoulders:They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for Ihave seen your painted women under the gas lampsluring the farm boys.And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, itis 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 thefaces of women and children I have seen the marksof wanton hunger.And having answered so I turn once more to those whosneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneerand say to them:Come and show me another city with lifted head singingso proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job onjob, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunningas a savage pitted against the wilderness,Bareheaded,Shoveling,Wrecking,Planning,Building, breaking, rebuilding,Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing withwhite teeth,Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a youngman laughs,Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who hasnever 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 ofYouth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be HogButcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player withRailroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
In the first five lines, Sandburg addresses Chicagoin a series of brief epithets which characterize theurbanized city:―HOG Butcher for the World,Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,Player with Railroads and the Nations Freight Handler;Stormy, husky, brawling,City of the Big Shoulders:”These powerful lines leave readers with a vividpicture of an industrial city with its severe life,yet proud people.
In celebrating slaughterhouses, the famousopening lines also establish the violent energyof Chicago - the citys creative force is bynecessity also destructive. In the remarkable rise of Chicago into abustling hub of commerce, the railroad playeda supreme role, linking eastern markets towestern grazing lands, while industry becamea magnet for immigrant laborers, creating agreat mix of foreign tongues and anatmosphere of strife and competition.
Sandburg ends his first stanza with a colon. Bypersonifying Chicago as a loutish, yet admirableperson with "Big Shoulders," Sandburg gives thecity attributes of a human being; the technique isactually employed throughout the poem toemphasize the living character of the city. In the second stanza, Sandburg uses a literarydevice known as the apostrophe when headdresses the city as a person, in a way one mightdiscuss someones disreputable reputation withthat person in a manly manner while drinkingbeer in a rough tavern:They tell me you are wicked......they tell me you are crooked…...they tell me you are brutal….
The repetition of the phrase ―they tell me youare...‖ emphasizes the fierce criticism peoplehave on the city, and the words, ―wicked‖,―crooked‖ and ―brutal‖ paint a negative pictureof the city as well as epitomize how much badstuff has been talked about the city. Sandburg actually almost proudly, agrees withthe vague accusations against Chicago. Heaccepts, ―yes,‖ the city is indeed… wicked, ―…I have seen your painted womenunder the gas lamps luring the farm boys.‖
It’s also crooked, ―…I have seen the gunman kill andgo free and kill again.‖ And brutal, ―…In the faces of women and children Ihave seen the marks of wanton hunger.‖ Indeed, the quick-changing nature of capitalism oftenworsened conditions with economic injustices, thusthe condition is clearly depicted here, "On the faces ofwomen and children I have seen the marks of wantonhunger.― Sandburg then treats the city initially as having fallenfrom the path of righteousness, a den of iniquitieswith its starving citizens and its "painted women underthe gas lamps luring the farm boys" (for the hotel andrailroad districts inevitably brought the big-city vicesof prostitution and crime).
Sandburg is being realistic and seems to agreewith Chicagos bad reputation. However, the he recognizes all this roughnessas part of the excitement and vivacity of what itmeans to be Chicago:“…so I turn once more to those whosneer at this my city, and I give them back thesneerand say to them:Come and show me another city with lifted headsinging,so proud to be alive and coarse and strong andcunning.”
In the next stanza, Sandburg shifts frompersonification to rough simile, "Fierce as adog with tongue lapping for action, cunningas a savage pitted against the wilderness". Then, he pairs the opening list of five epithetswith single word participles emphasizingactivities:Bareheaded,Shoveling,Wrecking,Planning,Building, breaking, rebuilding
Building on that crescendo, which is really anode to the working man, Sandburg adds formand focus to those words and couplespersonification with simile comparing the citywith a laughing person:"...laughing with white teeth,...laughing asa young man laughs...Laughing even as anignorant fighter laughs who has never losta battle.../...and under his ribs the heart ofthe people, Laughing!“ That laughing is both the joy of living, theself-awareness of the powerful nature of"Youth, half-naked, sweating...‖ and theignorant and somewhat naïve nature of thegrowing city.
This is indeed a vision presented in a fiercely-toned poem, a tone which matches the citysanimal fury and rabid hunger for progress, forSandburgs Chicago is "Fierce as a dog withtongue lapping for action, cunning as asavage pitted against the wilderness.― No matter how celebrated or demeaning thecity is, Chicago is indeed "proud to beHog/Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,Player with/Railroads and Freight Handler tothe Nation.― Therefore, one can see that while Sandburgpreviously recognizes the peoples and citiesfailures, he also cheers the invincibility oftheir souls.
Thus, Sandburg depiction of the city is of youth,high spirits, strength, and masculinity - a citysweat, with head lifted, shirtless, muscular, withbruised knuckles and soiled fingernails. He could have focused on sensitive artists,classical musicians, lyric poets, and the studiousintelligentsia, but that was not his vision ofChicago. For Sandburg, Chicago is a defiant, almostmythological entity that offers both deliveranceand pain to humankind. We then get the distinct impression here thatSandburgs ode to Chicago is his realization of thedichotomy of a city life and urbanization and itseffect on human beings, at the same time it is theexpression of the poet’s pride in his country.
While ―Chicago‖ is a rousing piece of writingabout the lives of people in Chicago and aboutthe city as a whole. ―Halsted Street Car‖ is a focuson a particular scene of the more pessimisticaspect of the city.Halsted Street CarCome you, cartoonists,Hang on a strap with me hereAt seven oclock in the morningOn a Halsted street car.Take your pencilsAnd draw these faces.
Try with your pencils for these crooked faces,That pig-sticker in one corner—his mouth—That overall factory girl—her loose cheeks.Find for your pencilsA way to mark your memoryOf tired empty faces.After their nights sleep,In the moist dawnAnd cool daybreak,FacesTired of wishes,Empty of dreams.
The recurring idea in this is the reference tocartoonists and drawing. It shows us thatpeople far too often focus on the upper classand not enough on the working class andpoor. The "cartoonists" in this poem can either becartoonists in newspapers, who often focustoo much on politics and the wealthy. Or the "cartoonists" could refer to us, thereaders. Its Sandburgs way of saying "if youwant to really see life, look at these people."
Again, Sandburg presents us with a beautifulpoem that focuses on the people that makeup the city. The poem is set in a street car on the way towork, where Sandburg describes the people as"Tired of wishes, empty of dreams‖. This says a lot about the people who work sohard that they have ceased to have big dreamsabout their lives. Chicago was a hard city back then. Thepeople were tired--of working and ofdreaming. But Sandburg is telling us thatthese people are where the real stories lie.
In ―Halsted Street Car‖ then the reality istreated in a more gloomy way than in―Chicago‖. Now, a real aspect of a workingclass’s daily life is laid bare. If the Chicagoans as a whole are being proudof the city and are keeping up with hard workto make the growth of the city, there are alsothose who are left behind and can not keep upwith the fast growing city of Chicago. Thesepeople deserve real intention and care.
While in ―Chicago‖ Sandburg celebrates thepride of the city, in this poem he also makesclear that unless the backbone of the city, theworking class, is treated with care, unlesstheir dream is fulfilled, the city and Americacan never really progress. Thus, Sandburg, in this poem, might be called―a pragmatic humanist‖ as the critic, GayWilson Allen, stated in South AtlanticQuarterly (1960), he is indeed ―not aNaturalist who believes that human nature issimply animal nature; or a supernaturalist,who has an equally low opinion of mankind.‖
Allen also added that, ―Sandburg writes of man inthe physical world, and he…regards the enemies ofhumanity as either social or political. Man’ssalvation, he thinks, is his instinctive yearning for abetter world; in the practical sense: idealism, the―dream‖.- Gay Wilson Allen. South Atlantic Quarterly.Summer, 1960, p. 318In summary, ―Chicago‖ and ―Halsted Street Car‖ canbe the epitome of thriving America in the firstperiod of the 20th century. They carry with them theAmerican dreams and the positive impacts of theIndustrial Revolution. At the same time Sandburgurges his readers not to forget the reality of thenegative impacts urbanization and industrializationhave on human beings.
Allen, Gay Wilson. South Atlantic Quarterly. Summer, 1960, p. 318Hackett, Francis. Horizons (Huebsch-Viking),1918.Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi.1883.http://carl-sandburg.com/POEMS.htmhttp://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/sandburg/sandburg_life.htmhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_%28poem%29http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/carl-sandburgs-chicago-bringing-great-city-alivehttp://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/28