Like many great authors, Carl Sandburg’s formative years were multifarious in quality. Born in 1878 in Galesburg, IL (his name was originally spelled -berg), he lived and worked in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and, of course, Chicago.
Sandburg wrote for the Chicago Daily News, but was known as a prolific folk singer-songwriter, Lincoln biographer and, above all, poet.
He never graduated from college, but won three Pulitzer Prizes (2 for poetry and 1 for his biography of Lincoln).
He died in 1967 in North Carolina at the age of 89.
It was he who coined the Chicago moniker “City of Broad Shoulders”, although his actual phrasing was “city of big shoulders”. It describes the persona of the city, which Sandburg personifies in this layered celebration of his adopted home.
by Carl Sandburg
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.