Chicago Songs

One of the many things that attracts me to Carl Sandburg’s collection of Chicago Poems is how relatable they are today, a century after they were first published. The city of Chicago of Sandburg’s day is still recognizable –the Hungarians of “Happiness” are now perhaps Ethiopians or Mexicans and the street cars have been replaced by the El, but the city and its duality are unchanged.

At once, Chicago is a city both vibrant and unsettling – a city of “wagons and people going” by day, and “voices of dollars and drops of blood” by night. It’s a city of high culture and incredible divides between north and south, rich and poor. Most of all, it’s a city of people and fellow citizens, from warehouse workers and commuters to corner-store owners and billionaires. That’s what Carl Sandburg wrote about, and that’s what these songs are about.

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“Anna Imroth” from Chicago Songs

Cross the hands over the breast here—so.
Straighten the legs a little more—so.
And call for the wagon to come and take her home.
Her mother will cry some and so will her sisters and brothers.
But all of the others got down and they are safe and this is the only one of the factory girls who wasn’t lucky in making the jump when the fire broke.
It is the hand of God and the lack of fire escapes





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