Poetry Review: “Chicago Poet” by Carl Sandburg

In honor of National Poetry Month, MontanaWriter is featuring poems about poets, poetry, and writing poetry. 

“Carl Sandburg’s Birthplace” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

At the half-way point of National Poetry Month, moisture has finally come to the North Country. The much drier than normal winter and early spring have given way to the kind of April showers we so desperately need. Egrets have returned to the wetlands near my house and every day the feeders are busy with gold finches and black-capped chickadees. In a word, it is spring.

In my early 20s, I spent this time of year in Chicago. It was a perfect life. Fall, winter, and spring in the city of broad shoulders and the rest of the year in the mountains. What that meant was that I experienced spring twice… as well as fall, for spring comes late to the high altitudes and autumn comes early.

No poet, of course, is more associated with Chicago than Sandburg. And there are few poets I enjoy reading these days as much as Sandburg either.

On a wet, spring morning, Sandburg seems like the perfect poet.



Chicago Poet
I saluted a nobody.
I saw him in a looking-glass.
He smiled—so did I.
He crumpled the skin on his forehead,
frowning—so did I.
Everything I did he did.
I said, “Hello, I know you.”
And I was a liar to say so.

Ah, this looking-glass man!
Liar, fool, dreamer, play-actor,
Soldier, dusty drinker of dust—
Ah! he will go with me
Down the dark stairway
When nobody else is looking,
When everybody else is gone.

He locks his elbow in mine,
I lose all—but not him.


Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

 Ah, this looking-glass man!
Liar, fool, dreamer, play-actor,
Soldier, dusty drinker of dust—


The idea of masks is as old as poetry itself. The “faces” we wear for others, even for ourselves, are many… the dramatis personae of our selves is long.  Poets just think and speak about these masks in a more direct and calculating fashion. It is through poetic persona that a poet speaks. Even the most apparently autobiographical poem needs to be read with this concept of masks always in the background. Sandburg knew the reality of this as well as any poet does.


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