The first stanza is perhaps the most important because it sets the mood for the rest of the poem. It characterizes Chicago in terms that are not necessarily positive. If one views the first line, it begins with "Hog Butcher for the World." This is sort of describes one of the job descriptions or epithets Chicago is associated with. This is not perhaps the most glowing image to associate when one thinks of Chicago, but is made up for when he describes it as the "Nation's Freight Handler." With these two contrasting representations, one can almost guarantee it will be a poem of contrasts, and indeed it is. Brutal honesty is maintained throughout the work leaving few possibilities for readers to decry the speaker's accuracy or bias.
The second stanza begins with acceptance. The speaker accepts that his city has problems. More than small ones it seems: prostitution ("painted women"), rampant murder ("killer go free"), and poverty and hunger ("wanton hunger"). He starts out neutral in the first stanza, even negative with few examples of positives, none obvious; now he accepts the faults the city has. The speaker speaks as if on trial, betraying the conclusion to come. He says, "They tell me you are wicked," and, "Yes, it is true" as if pleading guilty, but he does not give up as shown in the next part of this stanza After facing reality, the speaker stands resilient however. He challenges Chicago's accusers with the line beginning "And having." This marks a significant change in the mood.
Now he goes on the offensive, challenging someone to find him another city so strong. It does not appear that niceness, a silly frilly word he would probably say, is one of his main priorities. He compares Chicago to a coarse animal: strong, wild, and coarse. Flinging magnetic curses probably means curses that grab and pull in. Not lightly used but brought deep from within full of righteousness anger at "piling job after job" on it. He scoffs at the other cities, for they are weak in his eyes.
Bareheaded can most nearly mean exposed, uncovered, or, as in a construction site, unprotected. The speaker describes Chicago as unprotected with this word because the next words, shoveling, wrecking, planning, and building are most closely related to construction work. This means that Chicago is always changing destroying, rebuilding, and raw in its power. The last four words can also describe the union's strikes and riots that occurred over prohibition of that time which caused much poverty. These words sum up, more than anything else, the speaker and probably the author's view of the city.
First, we look at the image of Chicago as a dirty city, but because this is the optimistic part of the poem, we see the speaker still believes that the city still has some goodness, some purity underneath it all (white teeth). In the poem, Chicago personified uses its white smile to express joy and laugh. One can draw the conclusion that from this inner goodness that exists in the city, there is still true joy. The speaker compares the city to an overconfident underdog (terrible burden, ignorant fighter), endearing it the city to most readers. He expresses that this pulse, this strength, comes from not the city, but it's citizens.
Laughing is a repeated phrase throughout the fourth and fifth stanzas, and it gets its own line right before the beginning of the last stanza. It says something that the speaker believes about Chicago and its people: fearless and impossible to destroy (and a little crazy). It is a joyous, defiant sort of laugh. A laugh of an invincible youth at Death and one admiring his worth, strength, and utter honesty; no falsehoods. The poem ends with a full circle ending to sum up the overall message the poet leaves.