Sandburg describes Chicago’s working masses from 2 main angles, depending mainly on the part of his Chicago Poems. One group of poems is fully devoted to individual stories of workers (the examples are “The Shovel Man”, “Muckers”, “Child of the Romans”, “Fish…
he pulls on her stockings in the morning she is reckless about God and the newspapers and the police, the talk of her home town or the name people call her” (“Graceland” 18). They are often metaphorically inter-changed with land and machines, when human masses are seen as one mechanism under someone’s command, while the machines and buildings acquire human features: “So the green and the gray move in the early morning on the downtown streets” (“Working Girls” 6); “By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars and has a soul” (“Skyscraper” 25). The hardships of working people are often described in a dry, reporting tone, indicating how far they are from typical aristocratic discourse of poetry (“Onions”). At the same time, Sandburg often mythologizes his workers, comparing their strength, patience, and knowledge of life with ancient heroes and sages: “I thought he had a real soul and knew a lot about God / There was light in his eyes of one who has conquered sorrow in so far as sorrow is conquerable or worth conquering” (“Fellow Citizens” 13-14). Diggers of different kinds (shovel men and undertakers) are the keepers of special wisdom to him, as they are connected with the mythology of Death, the one that passes through every wall, even the highest walls around the rich (“A Fence”).
2. The collection “Chicago Poems” has a separate section of war poems. Like the section of the book dedicated solely to Chicago, this one is built upon the opposition between life (with corresponding symbols of rural landscapes, the grass, the sun, the wind, sensually described healthy flesh and sound spirit) and killing activities like war or devastating toil (associated with red color, gluttony, guns, and shovels as the symbols of death). It is remarkable how Sandburg uses refrains, personalization, and depersonalization of the objects and human being to show the power of time as compared to the working and killing tools and even ...
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