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Chicago by Carl Sandburg

By the middle of the 19th Century, Scandinavian immigrants started arriving at American ports in huge numbers; among them were Carl Sandburg’s Swedish parents.
Carl Sandburg. Foto.
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Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)

When Carl was born in 1878 in Illinois, he was in many ways a typical child for this period of mass immigration. The humble cottage where little Carl was raised, is preserved and mirrors how immigrant families lived. The Sandburg family counted nine members, and Carl had to quit school and start working from an early age.

His various temporary jobs and travelling experiences from his days as a hobo in the West, stirred his interest for folk songs and poetry. By working part time as a fireman, he could finally afford to start college studies in his home state. His college years ignited his socialist political views as well as his literary talent. In 1904 while working as a reporter for Chicago Daily News, he published his first poems. The poem "Chicago" from the collection “Chicago Poems” appeared 10 years later. His poetry clearly reflects his commitment to to Chicago and its citizens. Chicago was recognized as the city with "Broad Shoulders", a working class and immigrant city.

Chicago, Carl Sandburg, 2:22


Chicago from the Chicago Poems

Carl Sandburg, 1916

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, Bareheaded,
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.

Related content

Here are a variety of tasks to the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

CC BY-SAWritten by: Eli M. Huseby.
Last revised date 01/22/2019

Learning content

The Immigrant Experience