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"Child of the Romans"

The poetry of Carl Sandburg often documented the lives of ordinary working people in his adopted city of Chicago. Here he contrasts the backbreaking work and simple lunch of a railroad laborer with the comfortable lives and fine food enjoyed by the passengers on a first-class dining car rushing by. Despite the use of the pejorative term "dago" (an ethnic slur for Italians), the poem's title and Sandburg's sympathetic portrayal suggest a loftier lineage for the humble worker.


THE dago shovelman sits by the railroad track
Eating a noon meal of bread and bologna.
A train whirls by, and men and women at tables
Alive with red roses and yellow jonquils,
Eat steaks running with brown gravy,
Strawberries and cream, eclaires and coffee.
The dago shovelman finishes the dry bread and bologna,
Washes it down with a dipper from the water-boy,
And goes back to the second half of a ten-hour day's work
Keeping the road-bed so the roses and jonquils
Shake hardly at all in the cut glass vases
Standing slender on the tables in the dining cars.

Source | Carl Sandburg, "Child of the Romans," from Chicago Poems (H. Holt, 1916).
Creator | Carl Sandburg
Item Type | Fiction/Poetry
Cite This document | Carl Sandburg, “"Child of the Romans",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 10, 2023,



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