Carl Sandburg died in 1967, so it’s rather hard to know his take on the city’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.
Nonetheless, one of our readers suggests (scroll down to the bottom) that the poet would support Mayor Daley’s Olympic efforts, offering up Sandburg’s classic “Chicago” as evidence of why we should plow on with plans to spend billions and chew up the parks.
The lines supposedly in favor of the games come near the end of the poem, when Sandburg writes: “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.”
Of course, his darker take on the town comes a few lines earlier, when he talks about “your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys” and “the gunman kill and go free to kill again” and “the marks of wanton hunger” on “the faces of women and children.”
At the very least, I think it’s unfair to write off Sandburg as some sort of bubble-headed booster, at least in comparison to Nelson Algren. In writing about “Chicago” and “The Windy City,” another Sandburg classic, biographer Harry Golden notes: “Both poems make essentially the same point. While the city is a bold enterprise on the part of men, it is also an enterprise which corrupts natural emotions. For some, the corruption is almost total.”
Sounds familar, doesn’t it?