How Poetry Is Condensed Prose: Carl Sandburg’s “chicago” Essay, Research Paper
Poetry is the time old form of expression that allows one to explicate him or herself using very little words. A single poetic line can provoke a variety of emotions and send the reader to another place. Many scholars and English professors will tell you poetry consists of rhyme and meter, form and rhythm. They would be accurate in doing so. However, poetry can also be described as condensed prose that has the ability to induce a plethora of images, emotions, and thoughts into one’s mind, as does the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg.
The poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg offers a great example of how poetry is in fact condensed prose. The poem, published in 1914, tells about the wicked, bareheaded, and husky city of Chicago, Illinois. Rather than sticking to the traditional closed form of poetry, Sandburg’s Chicago departs to a more open form that includes some traditional uses of capitalization as well as lines that go along with the natural divisions of phrases and sentences. Instead of using any sort of metrical pattern, Chicago repeats words and phrases, such as “They tell me” in lines 6-10, to create its form. This poem can be considered condensed prose because it is telling a story of Chicago. One could get just as much, if not more, out of this poem as one would by reading prose about the city.
A major reasons the reader is able to extract so much from poetry is the strong use of imagery, or language that evokes a physical sensation produced by one of the five senses-sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell (Literature pg. 629). The poem Chicago again provides a great example of this. The mere word “Chicago” triggers an image in most of our minds. We picture industries and machines because most of us know that Chicago is a large industrial center. The first five lines of Chicago are describing the city. The images that we conjure up in our mind when we hear the phrases, “Hog Butcher for the World” or “Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat” are what we are going to associate with the city of Chicago. Sandburg continues to provoke the readers sense of sight as he writes, “On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger” and “Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness”. One immediately visualizes hungry women and children as well as a ferocious dog about to attack. The best use of imagery in Chicago begins on line 25.
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
the heart of the people,
A vivid picture of a man appears in the readers’ mind. He’s a young man, filthy from his daily work. The reader can actually hear the young man laughing, not caring that he is dirty. This sort of imagery is what poets use to say very much with very few words.
It is not deniable that poetry has the ability to evoke images and sounds into one’s mind. However, different people may conjure up different images upon reading a statement in a poem. As I read the poem Chicago, I drew images in my mind of giant smokestacks and men with sledgehammers. Though I was able to come up with these images, the fact that I have never been to Chicago hampered my ability to accurately portray the city in my mind. Residents of the city would come up with different images than me due to the fact that they have seen the city and probably have specific buildings and people in there mind already that the poem reminds them of. Also, if you were to mention the word “Chicago” to a sports fan then he or she would automatically think of the Cubs, Whitesox, Bears, Blackhawks, or Bulls (each of the cities major sports teams). A picture of Wrigley Field or the sound of Mike Ditka could enter ones mind. A music lover may automatically begin to hear his or her favorite Smashing Pumpkins song (a native band of Chicago) upon mention of the word Chicago. Obviously it is a persons background that will determine what images he or she draw from a poem.
Poetry has the ability to take the reader to another place. Poetry is in fact condensed prose, in that it often strays in form and tells a story only with fewer words. The array of images, feelings, and thoughts that a poem can evoke through imagery are what make poetry so unique. Though different readers will establish different images in their mind through a poem, we should all remember one thing: there is no one way to feel about poetry, for a poem can be unique to each person who reads it.