The Windy City

Excerpt from The Windy City, a poem by Carl Sandburg, published in a book titled Slabs of the Sunburnt West:

It is easy to come here a stranger and show the whole
works, write a book, fix it all up–it is easy to come
and go away a muddle-headed pig, a bum and a
bag of wind.

Go to it and remember this city fished from its
depths a text: “independent as a hog on ice.”
Venice is a dream of soft waters, Vienna and Bagdad
recollections of dark spears and wild turbans; Paris
is a thought in Monet gray on scabbards, fabrics,
façades; London is a fact in a fog filled with the
moaning of transatlantic whistles; Berlin sits amid
white scrubbed quadrangles and torn arithmetics and
testaments; Moscow brandishes a flag and repeats a
dance figure of a man who walks like a bear.
Chicago fished from its depths a text: Independent
as a hog on ice.

Link to the rest at Slabs of the Sunburnt West

And, a better known Sandburg poem about Chicago.

Chicago

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,
   Bareheaded,
   Shoveling,
   Wrecking,
   Planning,
   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!
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.

2 thoughts on “The Windy City”

  1. I practiced law in Chicago for many years, criminal defense of the poor and downtrodden from south Chicago and the near West. There was nothing romantic about going to a courthouse in the middle of ramshackle buildings, a courthouse ringed by chain link and armed guards and having your vehicle searched with sweep mirrors and your bags and body frisked and wanded by Cook County Deputies. Many times the cops wouldn’t show and my guy would walk. It was a matter of schedules and calendars and a system that ate time for fun. Carl Sandburg saw none of this or he might’ve toned it down a notch.

    • I lived in Chicago for several years before I went to law school, John, and I always loved the place.

      However, my only experience with Illinois courts came when I got a speeding ticket in Wilmette. I prepared what I thought would be an effective defense. The city’s attorney only had what the officer had written on the ticket and the judge concluded I was driving at a reasonable speed for the location and conditions and tossed out the ticket.

      Compared to the courthouses you describe in Chicago, the Wilmette palace of justice was pretty dull.

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