It’s been 100 years since downstate poet and writer Carl Sandburg published the words that would simultaneously reflect and define the city of Chicago.
There are probably few people in Chicago who aren’t familiar with the beginning of his poem Chicago. We see it on television, in advertisements, mocked, twisted, changed, used, abused, and appropriated in every possible way.
Sandburg, himself, described the poem as,” a chant of defiance by Chicago… its defiance of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. The poem sort of says ‘Maybe we ain’t got culture, but we’re eatin’ regular.'”
Chicago is still a city of poets and writers. Back in the early days of this blog we had yearly urban poetry contests that were well received. This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of Chicago, WBEZ radio is holding its own poetry contest looking for new prose about our fair city. You have until March 17, 2014 to enter, and you do it just by sending an e-mail with your poem to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In spite of its popularity, I suspect few people have actually ever actually read the entire poem. For that reason, we present Carl Sandburg’s Chicago in its entirety below.
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,
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.