Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems have this knack for drawing beautiful pictures of this industrial, working man Mecca full of “ugly walls,” “cabaret dancers,” “broken hearts,” “the crazy wonderful slamming roar of the street,” “clay [that] gleams yellow,” “hollow eyes,” “wasted hands,” and so on.
Some of my favorite poems he wrote were the ones about people he had met in Chicago, such as the “Dynamiter” whose job of blowing things up wasn’t as exciting or special as the love he expressed for life, his wife, and his children. I can imagine Sandburg and the dynamiter sitting in one of the bars that Jurgis went to enjoying steak and onions, laughing about some of the best times they had in life over a glass of beer. It’s this happy image of a man whose job is to work with the Grim Reaper, but instead of worrying him a ghostly entity, he thinks about the more important things in his life like his loved ones. I also like the one about Jack the “swarthy swaggering son-of-a-gun,” and the shovel man. He is creating characters in Chicago. The people that make up this city better describe the character that is Chicago. The history, the people, the fog, the lake, the streetcars, the bridge, and the subway are all a description of Chicago; it is the dialogue that Chicago speaks. Sandburg allows outsiders a glimpse of what he believes Chicago is.