I checked Chicago Poems out from the library here at UIC. Upon opening it up and breathing in the smell of old pages tenderly worn, I flipped to the back where the date due slip resided. There are currently five pages of previous patrons who have taken this book out of the library. As I held the book in my hands and saw that it was first checked out in 1980 I felt a sort of chill. The amount of people who have opened these very pages I looked at nearly thirty years later was astounding. It’s as if we are all connected by the poetry of a man about the very city in which our university resides.
I find myself walking down Canal Street to the train station and gazing up at the looming presence of concrete and steel. I’m drawn to Sandburg’s Skyscraper poem in particular. We’re past the days of a skyscraper mounting 20 stories but the endoskeleton that is the past remains to this day. When I’m walking down this street I can’t help but think of the probably millions of people who have walked in the exact footprints I leave behind in time. Similar to my book experience; where I have walked people before me have walked, and the book I hold to read has been held before. It’s weird to think about. Obviously there’s no way that anything is absolute in originality, but actually thinking about the past makes it so much more real.
Sandburg says that the skyscraper has a “soul”. This is something that makes complete sense when you think of the city in a personified way. The fact that this city has such a rich history means that is has grown. Our city is built on the nickname that it is the second city. It has a past, albeit a dirty one, it’s a past that gives the city a personal quality. Throughout the poem Sandburg is constantly giving buildings and objects human qualities and I think this makes sense. To most of the people who live here, it’s not just a home, but much more qualitative. Even though we may never know who has walked in the footsteps we walk in today, it is still a metaphysical connection to the past. The past carries with it a deeper understanding of why we are where we are today. Without the men and women who put their lives on the line to build such fantastic buildings, we would never be where we are today with a building such as the Sears (I refuse to call it the Willis) Tower. If it wasn’t for the imagination of people we wouldn’t be where we are today. Sandburg realizes that imagination is a catalyst for change and even though change is constant something is always left behind, lingering like a soul would when a person dies prematurely. The men and women who reached out to advance the city put their entire beings into their ideas and in doing so left an imprint of their soul that can never be removed. Though most people wouldn’t slow down their busy lives of money and business to realize the amount of innovation it took to create their lives, the fact remains that when we slow down to look where we are, we can feel their souls talking to us and inspiring more and more change; because as Sandburg says, “the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars and has a soul”.
So reading these poems mixed with the fact that this library book has been in the hands of potentially brilliant people makes Sandburg’s reading that all things have a soul so much more palpable. A book can’t have a soul, but it has a history and a history that is survived by those who continue to check out the books. My date due in now in this book and someone in thirty years might check it out and not think about it, but in a subtle way, I have left a part of my soul in the text. I may not be a skyscraper, but holding and reading this book with awe is part of my history and now the books. I only hope that someone has the same appreciation for it that I do and they cherish the books past crossing paths with their present and changing their future.