Analysis of "Fog" by Carl Sandburg

Updated on December 28, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg | Source

Carl Sandburg

"Fog" is probably Carl Sandburg's best-known poem and has been a popular choice for study since it was first published in Chicago Poems in 1916.

Sandburg was inspired to write it one day whilst out walking near Chicago's Grant Park. He had with him a book of Japanese haiku, the short 17-syllable poems that capture essences of the natural world.

He was on his way to meet someone and had some spare time, so he wrote "Fog" and developed what is essentially a haiku into something more.

Carl Sandburg wrote a great deal of poetry throughout his busy life and was also well known as a collector of American folk songs. He wrote a biography of Abraham Lincoln that is still a popular read today.

"Fog" is a poem that reflects Sandburg's interest in the natural world and beautifully captures a moment or two when the fog came moving in over the harbor waters, a powerful image given life through a metaphorical cat.

"Fog"

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Analysis

"Fog" is a short poem, six lines long, split into two stanzas. It is a free verse poem, having no regular rhyme or set meter (metre in British English).

The poem is an extended metaphor, the poet seeing the fog as a cat that comes on tiny, silent feet, as cats do when they are stalking for example. Only a cat can move in such a way, almost imperceptibly, and in complete silence.

  • A cat is an independent animal, it doesn't follow rules, it slips and slides in and out of our lives as it pleases, just like fog, which knows no boundaries.
  • Cats are stealthy, moving in slow motion at times. They can fix themselves onto an object or creature, seemingly in a trance, yet they appear to be moving in a most mysterious fashion.

This poem captures a little of this feline mystery. The reader's mind becomes filled with this dual imagery of fog and cat, fog turning into a cat, cat morphing back into the fog. By doing this, the poet is introducing the idea that the fog is alive and is an entity.

  • Cats also have the habit of finding a place which gives them an overview of a landscape or territory. They can sit or lie for hours in this elevated state, taking in all that happens almost inscrutably.
  • Fog, likewise, moves in at a slow pace and then stops, smothering everything, covering a landscape or seascape, and bringing silence and mystery. You cannot see through or into it, much like trying to understand a cat—you can only get so far. Can you ever get to know a cat? Ever get to know fog?
  • Cats like to move on at their own pace—at their leisure. They become totally relaxed but when they want to move they do so usually on their own terms. Before you know it, they've disappeared, faded away into the undergrowth, leaving only their aura behind. Same with the fog.

Short lines

By keeping the lines short, the poet is controlling the pace, keeping it slow. As you read, you have to slow down because you're not too certain about the next word or line. This reflects the slow fog rolling in.

Imagery

Fog meets cat; cat meets fog. Note the use of feet and not paws. The image is of thick white fog which slowly develops into a small feline, becomes life-like and is then gone. The fog is looking, as a cat looks, taking everything in. Here we have a snapshot of a city scene. It is a short animation.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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