The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Chicago” is a poem in free verse, one without a set meter or rhyme scheme, running twenty-three lines. The title gives the name of the city that the poet is praising, which does not appear elsewhere in the poem. Without the title, this poem could refer to any industrial city, suggesting a universal love of place.

The poem, written in the first person so that the poet addresses the reader directly, celebrates both the virtues and vices of the city. It begins with a staccato list of occupations found in Chicago (hog butcher, tool maker, stacker of wheat), followed by three adjectives that attach an emotion to those occupations. Carl Sandburg calls them “Stormy, husky, brawling,” creating an aura of vitality. This first section of the poem is abrupt and rapid, like the city being portrayed.

The second section departs from the brief phrasing and turns to long, flowing, melodic sentences. Each of the first three sentences acknowledges a vice of the city in the first half of the sentence. It is wicked, corrupt, and brutal. The poet agrees to each accusation, supplying a specific detail that supports the charge in the second half of the sentence. There are “painted women,” “gunmen,” and “wanton hunger.” The city does, in fact, have its failings.

The poet more than accepts the failings of his city, however; he answers in the remaining lines with a list of positive attributes. His city is singing and loud, “proud to...

(The entire section is 411 words.)