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Griffin Schutte
March 18, 2014
Does poetry inspire meaning in the interminable expanses of the world or is it meaning
derived from life that motivates the creation of exquisite poetry? In reality, the answer is
amorphous. Through poetry, poets convey their interpretations of the world while allowing their
audiences to speculate and construct their own meaning. Some poets craft elegant structures of
specific meter, imbuing the very foundation of the poem with meaning. However, other poets
use the same literary methods to evoke contemplation. The use of literary techniques is simply
to accentuate meaning. The reasoning and meaning in these poems are open to interpretation.
Reason persists in Carl Sandburgs poems Chicago and Hope is a tattered flag, despite the
lack of rhyme, due to the use of personification, juxtaposition, and parataxis.
The literary styling of Chicago, one of Sandburgs most prominent poems, embodies
the core values of the city while simultaneously exposing Sandburgs own milieu. Although
Sandburg displayed initiative in literature he needed to help support his family, thus
characterizing his youth by sacrifice and labor (Chicago). This provided Sandburg with the
perspective necessary to describe the citys working atmosphere, Flinging magnetic curses amid
the toil of piling job/ on job (line 22-23). Sandburg generates a personal tone in Chicago by
offering a personal testimony of the citys character, they tell me you are crooked and I answer:/
Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill (10-11). Through personification, Sandburg is
addressing the city, alluding to anonymous skeptics and corroborating their accusations. He
acknowledges Chicagos status as an epicenter of crime and violence, Its [Chicagos] reputation
was much worse than other large cities, and it became so notorious that in the 1920s the town
was synonymous with gangster activity (Chicago). However, despite the evidence of violence
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and corruption, Sandburg commends the city for its perseverance, Come and show me another
city with lifted head (19). The symbolism of a lifted head representing hope demonstrates
Chicagos willingness to endure its struggles and look to the future. This image sharply contrasts
that of the perverse city seen by cynics. The milieu of the city, in conjunction with Sandburgs
personal milieu, establishes the foundation of meaning in the poem Chicago.
Sandburg examines Chicagos identity to inspire meaning through his juxtaposition of
misery and hope within the city. Sandburg provides anecdotes of Chicagos despicable nature,
and he confirms each allegation. The city is condemned for its malevolence, 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 (7-9). The painted women, defined by the copious amount of makeup and
cosmetics they wear, represent harlots. They are described as tools of the city used to corrupt
innocent farm boys. In addition, rampant poverty is attributed to the city, 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 (13-15). From these lines, a simple conclusion is that Chicago is an abject city drowning
in poverty and corruption. However, the images of desolation are juxtaposed with those of hope
and fortitude, Come and show me another city with lifted head/singing so proud to be alive
(19-20). This evokes a feeling of hope, and invites the conceptualization of a burden being
shrugged off by the city. Chicago is additionally personified as optimistic and defiant in the face
of its difficulties, Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing/ with white teeth (33-34).
As critic Chris Semansky notes, By juxtaposing images of poverty and corruption with the
bragging and laughing behavior of the personified city, Sandburg recognizes that the city was
a place of both hope and despair. In Chicago, Sandburg emphasizes the stark contrasts that
exist in urban center such as Chicago and their representation of human failure and success.
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The poem Hope is a tattered flag showcases Sandburgs use of parataxis as well as his
free verse connections with the audience. In the poem, Sandburg implements a repetitive
structure that constantly defines the concept of hope, Virtually every line of the poem follows
the same syntactical pattern: the words, hope is followed by a series of images like a
heartspun word, the rainbow, the shadblow in white (Hope). Despite the ambiguous concept
of hope, Sandburg simplifies the idea through this parataxis structure and his use of free verse.
The poem does not adhere to any regular meter or rhyme scheme, instead it mirrors common
speech. Being the child of two Swedish immigrants, Sandburg may have developed a colloquial
style to honor his upbringing (Hoffman). In another criticism, Brian Collins went so far as to say,
None wrote with more firsthand experience than he, this son of semi-literate immigrant
laborers, a young man who rode the boxcars and lived among the hoboes. This suggests that his
style was not homage to his childhood but a manifestation of his inferior education. An
audacious conclusion is that perhaps Sandburg addressed the common man because average
thoughts were all he could convey. However, such flamboyant claims are wildly speculative.
Through simple, yet eloquent language Sandburg brought poetry to the everyday man.
Poetry is pure, unfettered expression. Poets convey their thoughts, emotions, and ideas
using poetry as a medium. This expression invites the audience to interpret meaning. However,
the question remains, is the poets meaning simply transferred through poetry or does poetry
itself inspire meaning? In the case of Carl Sandburg and his poems Chicago and Hope is a
tattered flag, both answers apply. Sandburgs observations of the world prompted him to share
his views. He did so through poetry that could be understood by the everyday man. By
communicating his ideas he motivated his audience to develop them further. Meaning is inherent
in poetry, but peoples reactions, revelations, and resolutions make poetry truly meaningful.
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Works Cited
"Chicago." Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit:
Gale, 1998. 60-77. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
Collins, Brian. "Hope Is a Tattered Flag." Poetry for Students. Ed. Jennifer Smith and Elizabeth
Thomason. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 119-132. Web.
Hoffman, Daniel. "Chicago." Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary
Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 60-77.Web
"Hope Is a Tattered Flag." Poetry for Students. Ed. Jennifer Smith and Elizabeth Thomason. Vol.
12. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 119-132. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Feb.
2014.
Semansky, Chris. "Chicago." Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary
Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 60-77. Web

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Hope is a tattered flag
By Carl Sandburg

Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.
Hope is a heartspun word, the rainbow, the
shadblow in white
The evening star inviolable over the coal mines,
The shimmer of northern lights across a bitter
winter night,
The Blue hills beyond the smoke of the steel
works,
The birds who go on singing to their mates in
peace, war, peace,
The ten-cent crocus bulb blooming in a used-car
salesroom,
The horseshoe over the door, the luckpiece in the
pocket,
The kiss and the comforting laugh and resolve
Hope is an echo, hope ties itself yonder, yonder.
The spring grass showing itself where least
expected,
The rolling fluff of white clouds on a changeable
sky,
The broadcast of strings from Japan, bells from
Moscow,
Of the voice of the prime minister of Sweden
carried
Across the sea in behalf of a world family of
nations
And children singing chorals of the Christ child
And Bach being broadcast from Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania
And tall skyscrapers practically empty of tenants
And the hands of strong men groping for
handholds
And the Salvation Army singing God loves us.

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Chicago
By Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nations 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,

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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.

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