Under his ribs the heart of the people

My kids reciting the Chicago by Carl Sandburg in 2014 for National Poetry Month.

Today’s prompt is What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?

I think about the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg nearly every day. I have for years. I love the imagery, personification and rhythm. I love its grit. I love how organic and industrial it is. Most of all I love the commitment. The narrator’s commitment to “this my city” speaks to me, not just as a person who loves the city of Chicago, but as a person who loves people.

Here, read:

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.

Currently, there is a snow plow naming contest in Chicago and “City of the Big Shovelers” is one of the “contestants.” God I hope it wins.


I look and listen for poetry everywhere I go. Sometimes it sneaks its way into a conversation and other times it’s just right there in front of me, written on the wall. I’m grateful for it all.

Gallery 400 on the University of Illinois Chicago campus.
A closeup of the things that poetry can do.

Thanks for reading.

Poems not emojis,


One thought on “Under his ribs the heart of the people”

  1. Great thoughts! I was born 90 miles across the lake (Lake Michigan) from Chicago and we took many field trips to the Chicago museums, we listened to Chicago radio stations, and as an adult, I loved the shopping excursions to the “big city.” Many good memories . . . thanks for bringing this poem back to my mind!

    Liked by 1 person

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