‘Chicago’ by Carl Sandburg (1914)


by Carl Sandburg

     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,
          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 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.

2 Responses to ‘Chicago’ by Carl Sandburg (1914)

  1. DickH says:

    While in Chicago, I watched closely for any mention of Sandburg. The only thing I found was a multi-block long housing development (very nice looking and well kept) that stretched from Lincoln Park in the north down Clark Street towards shopping area known as The Magnificent Mile (aka Michigan Ave).

    I did ask one of the guides at the Chicago Cultural Center about Sandburg. He said the poet was “more of a state-wide attraction than something unique to Chicago” so they didn’t have any brochures or pamphlets about him.

  2. PaulM says:

    Interesting to hear, Dick, because the 1914 poem “Chicago” is from a book titled “Chicago Poems,” published in 1916, which was Sandburg’s breakthrough volume. Some of the poems had first appeared in a Chicago-based literary magazine, “Poetry,” which made news in the past few years for being the recipient of a huge bequest from a heir to the Lily fortune. Ruth Lilly gave the magazine $100 million.