Paul’s Midterm Paper Outline

  • Introduction
    • Chicago Poems is a philosophical meditation on human impermanence. So how does Sandburg view death? What is he telling us about death?
    • Thesis: Ultimately Sandburg isn’t talking about death itself so much as he is using it as a lens through which to view life. We can look at this in three really different poems.
  • Graceland
    • The first stanza is not so much about the death of the millionaire as it is about their attempt to remain alive
    • This becomes a really interesting way to view the women in the second stanza who are alive in very different circumstances than the millionaire
    • Sandburg seems to be asking us who has it better, the dead millionaire or the living cash girls?
  • The Right to Grief
    • This poem isn’t about the child that has died (or the hogs whose blood is everywhere)
    • It’s mostly about the narrator (who I assume is Sandburg), it seems like a poem he needed to write to help him understand grief, and he ask us, the readers, who we are grieving for (through the use of the second person)
    • Grief is about empathy, which is about connection. How do we understand the way we are living by who we grieve for?
  • Anna Imroth
    • This poem is briefly about Anna, and briefly about her family, but it’s mostly about the girls who didn’t die
    • The “luck” and “the hand of God” that Sandburg say claimed Anna’s life are only uhere aseful to someone alive, once someone is dead those things don’t matter
    • So the end of this poem, “It is the hand of God and the lack of fire escapes,” is about who is still alive, and how long they might be alive
  • Conclusion
    • This work on Sandburg’s part to make death about life is not inherently optimistic, although I initially read it that way
    • It makes sense, because death is the absence of life which we can’t comprehend
    • I wonder what a poem simply focusing on death would look like



Paul:   I completely agree with you that the poems are as much about living as about dying.  But, rather than giving priority to the former at the expense of the latter, you might want to explore the claim of each, and the ongoing traffic between dying and living, between thoughts of eternity and realities of the here and now.  The line from “Anna Imroth” sums up this dual structure.  “The hand of God” looks heavenward, but “the lack of fire escapes” is a scathing commentary on labor conditions here on earth.  I look forward to a great paper analyzing the dialectic between these two.       — wd


Hi Paul,
You have an interesting premise about life actually taking precedence in Sandburg’s poems. While reading your outline, these were the questions that popped into my mind:
-Is death just a lens though which Sandburg examines life, or is it a shadow looming over life?
-What do you make of the fact that each of your chosen poems begins with a/the dead person?
-Is there something to be said about the life-death relationship in conjunction with the fact that two of the dead figures in your chosen poems are children/young people?

I think your choice of poems is excellent.


Comments are closed.