Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 394
Chicago Poems (1916) was Carl Sandburg's first published book. This book is comprised of dozens of poems, including some of his well-known and lesser known verses: "Chicago," "Under the Harvest Moon," "Who am I?," "Fog," and so on. Some of his lesser know works include "Happiness" and "Mag." Sandburg is hailed for his ability to embrace a soulful and lyrical element in his writing. Many of his poems were written about the city he loved, Chicago. Sandburg writes about the people, events, and many other elements of the rawness of the city. He is able to convey a beautiful but honest and acrid ode to the city he loves. The format of most of the poems is free verse, but there are also some prose poems, ranging from short to intermediate length. The first poem of his book is, appropriately, titled "Chicago." An example of Sandburg's strong and acrid devotion to the city is written in the opening lines of this poem:
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 . . .
Despite the speaker's not-so-flattering descriptors, there is a sense of pride in the city's dimensions. The first line is perhaps the clearest example of abrasive pride, as the speaker capitalizes on the prized title of "Hog Butcher for the World." Though this is maybe not a title sought by many, Chicago is known for its meat processing industry. The last line, "City of the Big Shoulders," relates to the first line and references the role of the city in relation to the country. Sandburg is praising Chicago and identifying its major industries.
Sandburg also includes intermittent poems addressing more sad elements and the struggles of the working class. "The Junk Man" is a sad poem that explores themes of death, poverty, and the working class. "Junk men" are those who buy, trade, or collect items with little to no value in hopes of reselling them for profit at scrap yards. The first two lines of "The Junk Man" are powerful odes to harsh realities for some:
I am glad God saw Death
And gave Death a job taking care of all who are tired of living . . .
Regardless of whether the reader is from Chicago, Sandburg will successfully provide the reader a glimpse of Chicago in all its forms.