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Chicago's Most Famous Poem — 'Chicago' — Still Resonates 100 Years Later

 It's been 100 years since Carl Sandburg wrote his famous "Chicago Poems."
Carl Sandburg Chicago
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CHICAGO — The most famous poem in Chicago's history — Carl Sandburg's appropriately named "Chicago" and published in a book also appropriately named "Chicago Poems" — celebrates a centennial anniversary this year.

Although it was originally released in 1914, it first became part of mainstream conversation with the 1916 release of Sandburg's book "Chicago Poems." The poem in some ways still resonates today, mostly because of it famously describing Chicago as the "City of the Big Shoulders" in the fifth line.

"From announcers on Monday Night Football at Soldier Field to people thinking about Chicago literature, that phrase is an easy-to-handle way to grab onto Chicago," said Peter Alter, historian and director for the Chicago History Museum's Studs Terkel Center for Oral History.

"I also still think is resonates for today when people want a way to talk about 20th Century Chicago," Alter added.

"Chicago" was one of the most well-known works of Sandburg, a novelist, journalist, historian and poet who died 49 years ago this month. He won three Pulitzer Prizes, but not for "Chicago Poems."

Sandburg's legacy lives on in the form of residences (Sandburg Village in Gold Coast/Old Town), several schools (including Sandburg High School in Orland Park), honors (Carl Sandburg Awards, given by the Chicago Public Library annually for outstanding literature) and the Carl Sandburg Mall, 1150 W. Carl Sandburg Drive in his native Galesburg, Ill.

"To a lot of people still alive ... Carl Sandburg is one of those poets where you can't think about Chicago literature without thinking about Sandburg," Alter said.

Check out of a picture of part of the poem and the full text below:

The first part of the poem titled Chicago by Carl Sandburg, published in Chicago Poems in 1916. [Chicago History Museum]

      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.

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