Study Guide

Chicago Love

By Carl Sandburg

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Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders: (4-5)

When the poem begins, it almost sounds like the speaker is describing a sexy muscle-man. And then we find out that those "Big Shoulders" belong to the city, not to some tough hog butcher with great biceps. Oops. That's some intense personification going on.

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. (6-8)

Here the speaker acknowledges all of the bad things about the city—violence, hunger, etc. He's not blind to Chicago's faults, not one bit. He loves the city despite all of the bad things about it. This is not some silly puppy love in which the speaker idolizes his love object. He loves the city's faults as well as its strengths.

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, (9-12)

Despite all its faults, the speaker really does love his city. It's just so gosh darn alive that he can overlook some painted women and gunmen. Is the speaker having a delusional moment here? Can you really love a city that is so utterly imperfect? Does the poem think that this love is irrational?

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. (23)

The poem ends on this note of pride. The city is proud, and the speaker is proud of the city. But can we call this pride love? Are pride and love the same thing?

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