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Welcome to the inaugaral session of the BGO Poetry Thing! I've tried not to agonise for too long about what to choose, or we would never get started, so I've just plunged in.


I've never been massively excited by all that poetry that gets written about nature - I can already see for myself that nature is sometimes very beautiful, without needing some poet going on at great length about it. (Shoot me now - I'm an illiterate heathen, I know :P )


But, I'm really intrigued by poetry in urban settings, that take something man made and everyday and make me see it with new eyes. So I thought that would be as good a place as any to start.


An old, traditional British one: Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth, written in 1802


And a more modern American one: Chicago by Carl Sandburg - written some time before 1916, which is when it was first published.


(I've got a still more modern, Irish one tucked away in my pocket for later, if we need it!)


I've no idea at all how this discussion might go. I guess a good place to start might be to read both and post up our initial reactions. That would get us going at least, wouldn't it. But if you have any other comments or questions that the rest of us might want to think about or whatever, go for it - launch in.


So - gut reactions, please. Which poem do you prefer and why!?

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Not trying to interfere, but I thought it might be an idea to cut and paste in the poems to make them accessible for people to read, rather than leave them as links.


Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth


EARTH has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;

Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!



CHICAGO by Carl Sandburg


HOG Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders:


They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I

have seen your painted women under the gas lamps

luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it

is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to

kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the

faces of women and children I have seen the marks

of wanton hunger.

And having answered so 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.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on

job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the

little soft cities;


Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning

as a savage pitted against the wilderness,





Building, breaking, rebuilding,

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 ribs the heart of the people,


Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of

Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog

Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with

Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

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First thoughts were that I didn't particuarly like either of these, but they are growing on me. I half knew the Wordsworth but Chicago was new to me. Its an incredibly powerful and evocative poem.


I love the time of day described in Westminster Bridge and often get up early and enjoy the peace before the day starts properly and this evokes it perfectly.


Chicago sounds rather scary and intensly masculine and this is not the way I had ever thought about it. It needs re reading I think.


Don't know if this is the sort of comment required but thought I had better start :rolleyes:

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I'm fortunate enough to know both cities pretty well, & I have to say the Wordsworth would be my choice. I genuinely think most Americans don't know how good they have it with their cities. By the standard of most places I've been Chicago is clean, short on violence and crime, and engagingly pretty. London is fantastic, but even on Westminster Bridge you're never that far from squalor of some description: in Chicago you have to leave the centre to find it. This was probably not the case in Wordworth's time.


They're very different poems, aren't they? It strikes me that Wordsworth's is, like a lot of Wordsworth, about rigorous analysis of his own experience, while the Sandburg is an effort to capture the feel of a place. And I'd argue it's Wordsworth's commitment to an accurate portrayal of his own sensations that makes him such an unusual and, in my view, good, poet. People argue it makes him selfish, that he doesn't care about, say, the poor people he writes about, only their effect on him. I'd argue it doesn't always make for good poetry:


You see a little muddy pond

Of water, never dry,

I've measured it from side to side:

'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.


But it does make for a good poetic. Which really works in 'The Prelude'.

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I've always been fond of 'Upon Westminster Bridge'. Like elfstar I love the early morning, seeing the world wake up as the sun rises, and can visualise the sleeping city of the poem.


This poem was written in the middle of the industrial revolution, but still has a flavour of London's rural past. At that time it was still possible for the city to rest overnight and wake clean and refreshed with the dawn.

It gives me a feeling of calm and peace, but with the anticipation of great things to be achieved with the new day.


'Chicago' is quite new to me, and when I started reading it I thought it was very 'macho' and aggressive, but having read it several times now, I find it exhilarating. It has quite a physical feel, and an air of boundless energy. Where the Wordsworth has the anticipation of achivement, in this poem things are being achieved now.


I wonder how much of the difference between the poems owes to the 100+years between them. Did Edwardian London have the energy of the Chicago of that time? Did Chicago have a peaceful semi-rural phase, looking back a further century?

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Ask Calamity Jane - she just blew in from the windy city!! That the musical - Chicago - and the Sara Paretsky novels are all i really knew of it. Very parochial of me. I remember in Calam. that Chicago was quite a new town and already hustling. No comment on the plot of the musical.


I agree with Megustaleer it IS exhilarating and I still find it a very masculine, go - getting sort of a poem.


The Wordsworth on the other hand holds the promise of the day to come and you can feel the peace and stillness so well.

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My geographical knowledge is fairly non-existent, but I imagine that Chicago was hacked out of wild prairie, rather than the gentle farmland of the Thames valley that cradled London.


Also, the City of London was a commercial centre, rather than an industrial one. Maybe a poem about the view from Dudley castle, of the nail and chain-making industries of the Black Country might not have been so tranquil?

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A random observation, but there are no people in Wordsworth's poem, are there - the city itself becomes a person, putting on a garment and with a beating heart. (Wonder if he saw London as male or female??)


Chicago, on the other hand, seems full of people - though he also makes the city into a person in it's own right.


Chicago almost seems more like a speech than a poem, though I'm not sure why. Partly the very long lines he uses, I guess. Partly that he comes across as addressing a specific audience who he wants to move.


I think part of the reason Chicago grabs my attention is personal. I live on the edge of Bradford - which is a city with a pretty poor image. (Most people think of the riots first, when you mention it :rolleyes: ) But, I love it here. The place has really got under my skin, and there is so much here which is fantastic. So as Sandburg defends Chicago from it's critics, there's a large part of me that is cheering him on and wants to do the same for "my" city!

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I loved both of these poems, especially when you look at them together. Claire, your point about the lack of people in the Wordsworth is really interesting - as you say, the city itself becomes personified whereas the 'slugger' in Sandburg represents the 'heart of the people' - he seems to be saying that the city is the people, not just its geographical presence.


This got me thinking about class. Although Wordworth's original intentions were to bring poetry to the people in Lyrical Ballads, I always find his introspective musings rather elitist and I think this is present in this poem. It's interesting that he refers to the 'majesty' of the city - an aristocratic phrase - and the calm and serenity of the place conveys, for me, a sense of assurance, stability and a vision of an imperial England (with 'ships') when power was taken for granted. It's no suprise after reading this, I think, that Wordsworth abandoned the radicalism of his early days to become a Conservative ( :eek: - sorry, should we stay off politics!) That's not to say that I don't love the poem - I do. But the Sandburg brought these issues to the fore by comparison.


Sandburg's poem, I think, glories in the vigorous energy of working-class life. It's not about serenity and aristocratic calm, but about being 'savage', 'bareheaded', 'ignorant' and a 'freight-handler' - perhaps the qualities on which America is built (although arguably England is too - it's just that Wordsworth ignores it). I think the form reflects this: Wordsworth has chosen to write a sonnet (14 lines), referring back to traditional poetic forms just as I think the ideas in his poem do. Sandburg's free verse is not constrained by such rules and has an easy flow (almost like prose). The repetition at the beginning and end draws attention to the identity of the slugger, at the heart of the city and the poem. Yet this is not a sentimental vision of the 'noble savage' - we get the impression that he is coarse and brutal, yet Sandburg accepts this in its totality.


Both poems are great - I think they just present very different responses that reflect their different contexts. I also think both poems are political and say something about the values and attitudes of both countries at those times.


Am I being too political, though? :confused: What do the rest of you think?

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On first impressions I much preferred the Wordsworth, and like others I found the Sandburg rather masculine and intimidating.


However on re-reading the Sandburg definitely grew on me, although the Wordsworth is still my favourite - romantic at heart!


Upon Westminster Bridge is a much softer poem - I think Wordsworth treats London in the same way as he would treat nature, and gives a sense that the 'towers, domes, theatres, and temples' of London have sprung up almost organically, that they are all part of one living whole. I think this is emphasised by the fact there are no people in the Wordsworth, London itself is personified. You don't get the sense that London is a whole of many parts, you get the sense that it has sprung up of it's own accord as an organic whole, and the fact that it accommodates people is merely coincidental. I almost felt like it was protecting it's inhabitants actually...that it had grown up round them to keep them safe. Goodness, that sounds very romanticised, but I think Wordsworth's picture of London is idealised - at least it seems that way to me now, perhaps it was different in Wordsworth's time.


Like Elfstar and Megustaleer I love the time of day evoked in Upon Westminster Bridge. THe fact that the time of day is specified perhaps could suggest that this is merely a snapshot - a romanticised ideal of London before it wakes up, and therefore could perhaps be forgiven for being idealised. Sandburg's Chicago differs in that it gets right into the heart of the city, the everyday, and in that Sandburg really gives a more realistic portrayal of a city.


The Sandburg is completely different, there are lots of people in it, and you get the feeling that Chicago did not spring up organically, it was forged, forced into existence by it's inhabitants - instead of London protecting it's people, Chicago's people protected themselves and gave themselves a living by forcing this city to exist. As Ade said, the city is the people, not just it's geographical existence, whereas with Wordsworth's London, the city itself is the focus.


I think this is where poems about cities can differ from nature poems - cities are built by people but nature builds itself and is destroyed by people most of the time. Sandburg recognises this, Wordworth doesn't seem to want to acknowledge it, and this could tie into what Ade was saying about class/politics.


Wordsworth's poem suggests he is in awe of London, as if London has created itself rather than having been created by people; Sandburg's suggests he stands back in sheer admiration of this 'slugger' of a city that they have brought into existence, even if he doesn't necessarily approve of it.


I thought these poems were really interesting Claire, I've enjoyed thinking about them. I don't think I've ever thought about the way in which cities are portrayed in poetry before.

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I've loved reading through everyone's comments here. Fantastic! I'd love to pick up on all sorts of things people have mentionned, but it's all too rich and overwhelming for my brain, which is still in holiday mode :o


I had a poem in mind I wanted to add about a man walking through Dublin very early one Sunday morning, but it's a pretty recent one and I can't find it online anywhere. It's called "Clearing a Space" by Brendan Kennelly if anyone wants to see if they have more luck. If you got the anthology, "Being Alive" by Neil Astley, (hello, megustaleer ;) ) it's in there - but that's not so helpful, I guess.


Was anyone surprised by any of the comments other people have made on these two? I was particularly intrigued by Ade's "political" comments - that gave me a whole new angle on them.


Anyone want to add a different "city poem" to give another perspective on the subject?

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Have taken a look at 'Clearing A Space', and can see why you would have wanted to include it. It would be unfair to the others to comment more, as it doesn't seem to be available online as yet :( --and I don't intend to type it :eek:


I have found everyone's comments very interesting, but I feel a bit inadequate in the light of greater erudition than my own. Am now awaiting the approach of June 26th with trepidation :o

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Have taken a look at 'Clearing A Space', and can see why you would have wanted to include it. It would be unfair to the others to comment more, as it doesn't seem to be available online as yet :( --and I don't intend to type it :eek:


I have found everyone's comments very interesting, but I feel a bit inadequate in the light of greater erudition than my own. Am now awaiting the approach of June 26th with trepidation :o


No, I wasn't quite keen enough to type it either!


I shouldn't be too daunted about choosing poems....I didn't quite choose at random, but almost - and it seemed to work out ok!!

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Sandburg's suggests he stands back in sheer admiration of this 'slugger' of a city that they have brought into existence, even if he doesn't necessarily approve of it.


I thought your comments about the two poems were really interesting, Seraphina - I just wondered why you think Sandburg doesn't approve of the city. I disagree: I think he glories in everything the city represents in all its reality. I think he sees the city as having no morality and he finds this amorality inspiring and full of potential. It is the fact that Sandburg tackles the city head-on and doesn't romanticise it as Wordsworth does with London that makes this poem appeal to me more and more.

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I think he sees the city as having no morality and he finds this amorality inspiring and full of potential.


I hadn't considered this idea of amorality before Ade, it's quite interesting, and I think I actually agree with you.


Originally I felt that although Sandburg could see that CHicago was a 'wicked', 'crooked', and 'brutal' (and thus was making a moral judgement about it), he still had to admire it for it's vigour...that he 'disapproved' of Chicago's morals yet had a great respect for it. I think had I taken more time to think over what I wrote I may have come closer to the idea I've quoted from Ade.


Perhaps a city doesn't need to be 'moral', perhaps the idea of morals could restrict a city's growth...something to think about, I may post again in a few days once I've had time to think about it.


Morality made me think of rules - Wordsworth's poem really sticks to the rules doesn't it? A sonnet, 14 lines long all in perfect iambic pentameter. The scene is idealised, nothing about the poem stands out, it's inoffensive.


The Sandburg on the other hand is irregular in form, making me feel as if Chicago can't be contained in a regular form, it's got too much life for that. The first and the last stanzas use particularly harsh consonants, lots of 'B' sounds, 'T' sounds and 'W' sounds...if you read it aloud you can almost imagine the words being spat out at you, it's impossible to read it softly. I think he lets down his guard in the middle section - he kind of lets us see that he might be a bit hurt by people 'sneering' about his city, and the language isn't quite so harsh in this section - perhaps it suggests that for all it's brawn Chicago has a heart as well....not completely sure about this, thinking as I type really....what do other people think? Anyway, I was talking about rules....Chicago isn't constrained by rules and perhaps this is why it can grow whereas Wordsworth's London seems rather static....


I'm starting to prefer the Sandburg! I have to head now, BIG BROTHER EVICTION!!! May come back and edit later, this is a bit rushed! I'm so sad, addicted already..... :o

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Yes, it's funny how the Sandburg does grow on you!


However, my only criticism would be the unashamedly male perspective that the poem adopts. The city's only feminine force is the 'painted' women and there appears to be little place for the female in this harsh and vibrant world. Mind you, the same could be said of Wordsworth, I suppose. Although perhaps the idea of the city wearing a garment and looking beautiful feminises London? Perhaps the old world tradition has always been to feminise countries (Britannia etc) whereas the new world is more masculine, akin to the pioneering spirit?

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I have started a new thread for my poems. Easy to find.

Unfortunately I havent had as much time as I had hoped and have therefore not chosen as I wished BUT thought it better that I post something rather than land somebody else in it. :eek:

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