My second reading of Sandburg was remarkably different from my first. The lines and themes that bothered me so much before I had difficulty recognizing this time through and the tone read differently. I think reading The Jungle had a lot to do with my changed perspective, giving Chicago Poems context and also acclimatizing me to the harsh tone of so much Chicago writing. I think I had to learn to read Chicago Poems, to become able to get the content without becoming distracted by the writing style.
One of the poems that I thought was a great follow-up to The Jungle was The Right to Grief. It was a good illustration of the inflexibility and inhumanity of the newly industrialized world that Jurgis encountered. The workman’s inability to properly grieve his loss, coupled with his ambivalence about the child’s death echoed the immigrant’s experience in The Jungle where the family is unable to take a day off after their wedding, and Jorgis sense of self-preservation overwhelms any sense of filial obligation when he sets off on his own.
I also enjoyed A Fence, “passing through the bars and over the steel points will go nothing except Death and the Rain and To-morrow.” While Sandburg is certainly a sharp critic of industrialization and the class structure, he is also able to recognize certain human truths that are universal despite race and class and money.