What are some literary devices within the poem "Chicago" in Sandburg's Chicago Poems?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sandburg uses anaphora a couple of times in this poem, which is the repetition of a phrase in successive lines (emphasis added):

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.

The repetition intentional to demonstrate the awareness of the speaker toward his beloved Chicago. He has heard the claims others have made against the city, and he acknowledges the truth in some of these statements. There are murders. There is hunger. But Chicago is more than its flaws.

Anaphora is used again near the end of the poem:

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,

Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,

The speaker reiterates the position of his city through the preposition "under." This conveys the struggle of Chicago and presents it as a type of underdog. In spite of that position, Chicago still "laughs," which brings us to another literary device.

The speaker also uses repetition, particularly as the poem closes. Consider the intentional repetition of the word "laughing" in these lines:

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...
Why does the speaker repeat "laughing" and "laughs" eight times in quick succession? This repetition reinforces the endless pride and strength of Chicago. The personification developed through this word choice connotes a joyous sense of endurance that is central to the city's history and future.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 2, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Sandburg's poem "Chicago," the entire first stanza uses personification, as well as an extended metaphor as the writer compares the city to the things people do:

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...

Personification gives human characteristics to non-human things. Chicago is a place (a thing) that cannot do human things such as "brawling" or have physical characteristics such as "Big Shoulders."

The extended metaphor makes a comparison that continues throughout several lines. It is defined as:

...a metaphor developed at great length

It lists professions that people have, but assigns those professions to the city, rather than to people. The city, for example, cannot be a hog butcher or toolmaker: only its people can, thereby supplying to the needs of the nation or even the world.

Similes are comparisons of dissimilar things that share similar qualities, using "like" or "as" in the comparison. The poem has several similes:

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness...

In these similes, Chicago is compared to dogs and savages. Here are examples of personification, as are the closing lines of the poem. However, these closing lines use brilliant imagery to provide a picture of diverse aspects of Chicago with such clarity, that Sandburg's personification brings alive the spirit of the city, one which he obviously admires. 

In these lines, the words form images in the reader's brain. Sensory details or descriptive details are used—details that appeal to one or more of the senses: in this case, visual senses.

[The five senses] are our primary source of knowledge about the world. Therefore, writing which incorporates vivid, sensory detail is more likely to engage and affect the reader.

To make his writing more engaging, Sandburg uses impressive sensory details: here is the image of a "dusty mouth" contrasted with "white teeth." 

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth...

Personification continues as Chicago is given the human ability to laugh; to shoulder the "terrible burden of destiny (a human action); and, the "stick-to-it-iveness" of the "ignorant fighter" who can laugh because he has never known failure in the ring.

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...

Sandburg brings to mind the essence of the city, the life it seems to have—directing the reader's attention to the part of its "body" that refer to the most caring aspects of a human being:

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,

                   Laughing!

There is joy in the city; it has a pulse that infers it has a life of its own; and it has a heart—but not of its own: it houses "the heart of the people" and an element of the goodness the author feels it is imbued with, found in the word "Laughing!"

 

Additional Sources:

http://ai.stanford.edu/~csewell/culture/litterms.htm

http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=91

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial