Read the complete poem "Chicago" at the website "Carl Sandburg - Chicago Poems."
If ever there were a "manly" poem written in gutsy, robust open verse, Chicago, by Carl Sandburg is the one. Starting out as a kind of testimonial, the poem reads almost like a eulogy to some fallen, but not defeated, " Midwestern everyman." What better tribute to Chicago - a stockyard, grain processing, tool and die maker, freight and rail center than Sandburg's opening address?
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads...
Significantly, Sandburg ends his first verse with a colon. He is addressing Chicago as one might address a somewhat loutish, yet admirable person with "Big Shoulders." In the second stanza, Sandburg speaks to Chicago in a way you might discuss someone's disreputable reputation with that person while drinking beer in a rough tavern:
They tell me you are wicked...
...they tell me you are crooked
...they tell me you are brutal
In each case, Sandburg believes and agrees with Chicago's bad reputation: "...I have seen your painted women...I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again...On the faces of women and children, I have seen the marks of wanton hunger..."
Somehow, though, the poet recognizes all this roughness as part of the excitement and vivacity of what it means to be Chicago: "...I say to them (the detractors):/Come and show me another city with lifted head singing, so proud to be alive..."
In the final stanza, Sandburg shifts from personification to rough simile ("Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness"). Then, as if in a drumming cadence to make a sort of thumping emotional appeal of how he sees Chicago, Sandburg uses an astonishingly effective series of words that precisely connote what he sees in Chicago:
Building, breaking, rebuilding
Then, building on that crescendo, which is really an ode to the working man, Sandburg adds form and focus to those words and couples personification with simile: "...laughing with white teeth,...laughing as a young man laughs...Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle.../...and under his ribs the heart of the people, Laughing!" That laughing is the joy of living. That laughing is both the self-awareness of "Youth, half-naked, sweating..." Chicago is indeed "proud to be Hog/Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with/Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation."
We get the distinct impression here that Sandburg's ode to Chicago also celebrates his pride in his country. Chicago, our "Second City" has always been somewhat of a crossroads as our country grew and flourished. Sandburg cherishes and celebrates by focusing his pride on that city, its vibrancy, and its people.