"The Shovel Man"
Below is the poem, with analysis at the bottom.


   On the street
Slung on his shoulder is a handle half way across,
Tied in a big knot on the scoop of cast iron
Are the overalls faded from sun and rain in the ditches;
Spatter of dry clay sticking yellow on his left sleeve
        And a flimsy shirt open at the throat,
        I know him for a shovel man,
        A dago working for a dollar six bits a day
And a dark-eyed woman in the old country dreams of
    him for one of the world's ready men with a pair
    of fresh lips and a kiss better than all the wild
    grapes that ever grew in Tuscany.

A Student's Analysis

This poem's a little bit of a change of pace from what you've been reading.  Instead of focusing on the hardships of the people, it presents itself as a sweet poem about worker and a woman.

The worker, a dago shovelman ("dago" refers to an Italian.  In Chicago, people were often described by ethnicities), left his home country to come to Chicago and work.  But back in Italy is a woman waiting for him.  Even though it's a sweet poem about love, it gives us a few interesting looks at the worker.  Sandburg presents him rather simply as a worker who is not necessarily handsome.  He himself says he knows him as only a shovelman.  But behind the worker image we see, we see a little about his history and who he is by the description of the woman waiting for him back in Italy.  I think it's Sandburg's way of saying that you really can't judge a book by its cover because we rarely look beyond what we see in a person on the outside.

Each of the workers that make up the city of Chicago have their own unique history and story.

This website is a student project created for the University of Michigan's English 280 class.  Created by Chris Stallman