Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor’s breast
And the harbor’s eyes.
Carl Sandburg Chicago poems, New York: Dover Publications, 1994. (First published by Henry Holt and Company, New York, in 1916)
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) left school aged 11, working in a variety of jobs such as barbershop porter, milk truck driver, brickyard worker and wheat harvester. He enlisted with the 6th. Illinois Infantry in 1898 and served in the Spanish-American War.
In 1913, he moved to Chicago and became one of a group of writers responsible for the Chicago Renaissance in arts and letters. His work reflects an awareness of the U.S. as an increasingly urban nation, frequently celebrating the drive and energy of the working people of the industrial Midwest. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950.
However, in the poem above, a note of loneliness and alienation is conjured up by the whistle of a boat on Lake Michigan – alienation, yet with some hope, or hint of a hope, of homecoming.