Though I must agree with the rest of the class that Sandburg could have written all of his ideas into about 20 poems, and never written another thereafter, I thoroughly enjoyed “Chicago Poems”. I will never tire of working-class literature and socialist politics; Chicago’s story is a story of class struggle, just like America’s and the wider world’s. Certainly the poems would have benefited from a little innovation; still, they speak through a raw American voice. One of the things I find most beautiful in Sandburg’s poetry is the simplicity of the language; Sandburg is unpretentious, a poet for the people.
I found “Fish Crier” to be one of the most poignant poems of the whole collection. The raw, simple beauty of these lines expresses all the despair and the joy of the immigration experience. To read these lines is profoundly humbling.
“His face is that of a man terribly glad to be selling fish, terribly glad
that God made fish, and customers to whom he may call his
wares from a pushcart”
The fish crier is thankful for the opportunity to sell fish, for his existence in a world where selling fish is possible as a viable alternative to a worse situation. The simplicity and humility of his desires and his gratitude is so moving because it makes an implicit comparison to what must have been a far worse experience from before he became a fish crier. A man who is deeply thankful to push a cart of dead fish is a man who survived more extreme poverty, or a war, or the misery of third world poverty.
Sandburg's gift is for capturing these small, beautiful, redeeming scenes from the rough lives of the American underclass. While not always elegant, Sandburg's scenes and observations remind us of the hard work, struggle, and modesty of the American people. He shows us the faces of the men and the women who built modern America.