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Carl Sandburg

American Poet


A selection from

Narrated by Dick Hill

Download mp3 file: Chicago Poems

This file is 5.6 MB; running time is 12 minutes
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     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.


PASSING through huddled and ugly walls
By doorways where women
Looked from their hunger-deep eyes,
Haunted with shadows of hunger-hands,
Out from the huddled and ugly walls,
I came sudden, at the city's edge,
On a blue burst of lake,
Long lake waves breaking under the sun
On a spray-flung curve of shore;
And a fluttering storm of gulls,
Masses of great gray wings
And flying white bellies
Veering and wheeling free in the open...


Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blend
To form the city's afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.
I remember lean ones among you,
Throats in the clutch of a hope,
Lips written over with strivings,
Mouths that kiss only for love.
Records of great wishes slept with,
     Held long
And prayed and toiled for. .
Written on
Your mouths
And your throats
I read them
When you passed by.


THE working girls in the morning are going to workó
     long lines of them afoot amid the downtown stores
     and factories, thousands with little brick-shaped
     lunches wrapped in newspapers under their arms.
Each morning as I move through this river of young-
     woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all
     going, so many with a peach bloom of young years
     on them and laughter of red lips and memories in
     their eyes of dances the night before and plays and
Green and gray streams run side by side in a river and
     so here are always the others, those who have been
     over the way, the women who know each one the
     end of life's gamble for her, the meaning and the
     clew, the how and the why of the dances and the
     arms that passed around their waists and the fingers
     that played in their hair.
Faces go by written over: "I know it all, I know where
the bloom and the laughter go and I have memories,"
     and the feet of these move slower and they
     have wisdom where the others have beauty.
So the green and the gray move in the early morning
     on the downtown streets.


I DRANK musty ale at the Illinois Athletic Club with
     the millionaire manufacturer of Green River butter
     one night
And his face had the shining light of an old-time Quaker,
     he spoke of a beautiful daughter, and I knew he had
     a peace and a happiness up his sleeve somewhere.
Then I heard Jim Kirch make a speech to the Advertising
     Association on the trade resources of South America.
And the way he lighted a three-for-a-nickel stogie and
     cocked it at an angle regardless of the manners of
     our best people,
I knew he had a clutch on a real happiness even though
     some of the reporters on his newspaper say he is
     the living double of Jack London's Sea Wolf.
In the mayor's office the mayor himself told me he was
     happy though it is a hard job to satisfy all the office-
     seekers and eat all the dinners he is asked to eat.
Down in Gilpin Place, near Hull House, was a man with
     his jaw wrapped for a bad toothache,
And he had it all over the butter millionaire, Jim Kirch
     and the mayor when it came to happiness.
He is a maker of accordions and guitars and not only
     makes them from start to finish, but plays them
     after he makes them.
And he had a guitar of mahogany with a walnut bottom
     he offered for seven dollars and a half if I wanted it,
And another just like it, only smaller, for six dollars,
     though he never mentioned the price till I asked him,
And he stated the price in a sorry way, as though the
     music and the make of an instrument count for a
     million times more than the price in money.
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
Anyway he is the only Chicago citizen I was jealous of
     that day.
He played a dance they play in some parts of Italy
     when the harvest of grapes is over and the wine
     presses are ready for work.


WHAT do we see here in the sand dunes of the white
     moon alone with our thoughts, Bill,
Alone with our dreams, Bill, soft as the women tying
     scarves around their heads dancing,
Alone with a picture and a picture coming one after the
     other of all the dead,
The dead more than all these grains of sand one by one
     piled here in the moon,
Piled against the sky-line taking shapes like the hand of
     the wind wanted,
What do we see here, Bill, outside of what the wise men
     beat their heads on,
Outside of what the poets cry for and the soldiers drive
     on headlong and leave their skulls in the sun foró
     what, Bill?


LITTLE one, you have been buzzing in the books,
Flittering in the newspapers and drinking beer with
And amid the educated men of the clubs you have been
     getting an earful of speech from trained tongues.
Take an earful from me once, go with me on a hike
Along sand stretches on the great inland sea here
And while the eastern breeze blows on us and the
     restless surge
Of the lake waves on the breakwater breaks with an ever
     fresh monotone,
Let us ask ourselves: What is truth? what do you or I
How much do the wisest of the world's men know about
     where the massed human procession is going?
You have heard the mob laughed at?
I ask you: Is not the mob rough as the mountains are
And all things human rise from the mob and relapse and
     rise again as rain to the sea.


TEN minutes now I have been looking at this.
I have gone by here before and wondered about it.
This is a bronze memorial of a famous general
Riding horseback with a flag and a sword and a revolver
     on him.
I want to smash the whole thing into a pile of junk to be
     hauled away to the scrap yard.
I put it straight to you,
After the farmer, the miner, the shop man, the factory
     hand, the fireman and the teamster,
Have all been remembered with bronze memorials,
Shaping them on the job of getting all of us
Something to eat and something to wear,
When they stack a few silhouettes
          Against the sky
          Here in the park,
And show the real huskies that are doing the work of
     the world, and feeding people instead of butchering them,
Then maybe I will stand here
And look easy at this general of the army holding a flag
     in the air,
And riding like hell on horseback
Ready to kill anybody that gets in his way,
Ready to run the red blood and slush the bowels of men
     all over the sweet new grass of the prairie.

More information about Carl Sandburg from Wikipedia

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