About the poet: Carl Sandburg was born on 6th January 1878. His parents, August and Clara Johnson, had emigrated from Sweden. After encountering several August Johnsons in his job for the railroad, Sandburg’s father renamed the family.
For thirty years Sandburg collected material to write his six-volume definitive biography of Abraham Lincoln. The 1920s also saw Sandburg’s collections of American folklore, the ballads in The American Songbag and The New American Songbag (1950), as well as books for children. These later volumes contained pieces collected from yearly tours across America, playing his banjo or guitar, singing folk-songs, and reciting poems.
Sandburg received a second Pulitzer Prize for his Complete Poems in 1950. He died on 22nd July 1967.
Sandburg has described the how the idea for this poem came to him. One day when he was carrying a book of Japanese “Haiku“, he went to interview a juvenile court judge. To reach the location at which the interview was to take place, he had to cut through Grant Park, and he saw the fog over Chicago harbour. It was not that he was seeing fog for the first time, but this time he had to wait forty minutes for the judge, and he only had a piece of newsprint handy, so he decided to create an “American Haiku” about it.
The poem consists of 2 stanzas of variable length. The first stanza is made up of 2 lines. On the other hand, the second stanza is made up of 4 lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of 6 lines in total.
Fog by Carl Sandburg Summary- Line by Line
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
In this stanza, the poet describes the arrival of the fog towards the city of Chicago. As we know, fog consists of tiny droplets of water suspended in the air. Hence, it is a fluid, and fluids move in a flowing manner. Their movement has no solid manifestation. That is why it seems to the poet that the fog is gliding towards the city. He compares this gliding movement to the movement of a cat. This is a very apt comparison.
Even though a gliding movement is also engaged in by other creatures, for example, the snake, the fog also has a substantial mass that is not present in any of these creatures other than a cat. Moreover, a cat is known to move surreptitiously. This is easy for the cat to do since the padding under its paws is very soft and it does not make any noise while the cat is moving. Similarly, the fog is also approaching Chicago silently but surely.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
In this stanza, the poet describes the way in which the fog comes to Chicago only for a while and then it retreats. He continues the comparison of the fog with the cat. He says that like a cat, the fog sits on its haunches for a while and looks over the city of Chicago and its harbour. A cat is generally a very cautious creature and therefore, it cannot sit and relax in one place. Unlike dogs, they never even rest their bodies entirely on any surface, choosing instead to squat on their haunches. The fog is also a temporary visitor to Chicago, and that shows very clearly in its movement. It does not settle down anywhere, like dust particles. Instead it only hovers over the city of Chicago.
That the fog should naturally move towards a water body such as the Chicago harbour is no mystery, since fog attracts water particles. However, the fog is not there to stay. As silently and surreptitiously as it had come, it also leaves Chicago soon enough. Hence, even in its retreat, its movement resembles the movement of a cat. That is why the poet’s use of this extended metaphor is absolutely appropriate to describe the fog he has seen over Chicago.
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