Chicago from the lake
A view of the Chicago skyline (Wikimedia CC)


As we made our approach to the runway at O’Hare, I found myself thinking of Carl Sandburg’s famous 1914 poem:



Hog Butcher for the World,
   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.


Sandburg is said to have 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.'”


Of course, what was perhaps true of Chicago a century ago can no longer really be said of the Chicago of today — the city of the renowned University of Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet, the Chicago Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony, and a host of other major cultural institutions, the location of major art collections, the canvas on which my favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, created many of his very significant works.


Posted from Chicago, Illinois



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