“Fog” is a short poem by Carl Sandburg that was published in 1916 in his first major poetry collection, “Chicago Poems”. This is a timeless masterpiece that encapsulates the elusive nature of this natural phenomenon in a mere six lines. With his succinct and evocative language, Sandburg transports readers into a world where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and a simple fog can take on a deeper, almost mystical significance.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
“Fog” by Carl Sandburg is a masterful example of imagism, a movement that emphasizes clarity, simplicity, and the use of precise imagery. Sandburg personifies the fog, likening its arrival to the delicate and almost imperceptible footsteps of a cat. This metaphor brings the natural phenomenon to a relatable level, allowing readers to envision fog in a new, more intimate light.
The poem’s structure is brief and free of complex language, which mirrors the subtle and transient nature of fog itself. Sandburg’s choice of a cat, an animal known for its quiet and graceful movements, further reinforces the gentle and unobtrusive quality of fog as it arrives and rests “looking over harbor and city.” The fog’s presence is portrayed as observant and contemplative, yet it is ephemeral, as it “moves on” after its silent vigil.
This simple yet evocative poem captures the essence of a moment in nature, emphasizing the beauty in the ordinary and often overlooked. Sandburg’s appreciation for such natural events is conveyed through his concise and vivid imagery, inviting readers to pause and consider the quiet magnificence of the world around them. The fog becomes a living, breathing creature under Sandburg’s pen, a silent witness to the world that, like a cat, can be both there and not there, seen but also unnoticed, fleeting yet memorable.
Lines 1-2: The fog comes on little cat feet.
The opening lines immediately introduce the central metaphor of the poem, where the fog is likened to a cat. By saying the fog comes “on little cat feet,” Sandburg is attributing the stealth and subtlety of a cat’s approach to the fog’s entrance. This comparison paints a picture of the fog as something that is not only silent and gentle in its arrival but also precise and delicate, much like the way a cat places its feet with care and quietness.
Lines 3-4: It sits looking over harbor and city
Here, Sandburg continues with the personification of fog, granting it an almost sentient quality as it “sits looking” over the human environment. This positioning of the fog gives it a contemplative characteristic, suggesting a watchful presence. By using the verb “sits,” there is an implication of intention and choice, as if the fog has decided to rest and observe the city and harbor below, similar to a cat that has found a perch to survey its surroundings.
Lines 5-6: on silent haunches and then moves on.
The poem concludes with the fog, still embodied as a cat, being described as resting “on silent haunches,” reinforcing its quiet and unobtrusive nature. The use of “silent” underscores the non-intrusive, almost respectful manner in which the fog interacts with the environment. Finally, the fog “moves on,” just as quietly as it arrived, leaving as if it were never there. This is reminiscent of the way cats move—present one moment and gone the next without fanfare.
Sandburg’s poem is a meditation on the subtlety and transience of nature. It encourages readers to observe and appreciate the understated beauty in natural phenomena that are easy to miss. By personifying the fog, Sandburg makes the natural world relatable and engaging, allowing readers to see the fog’s grace and elegance that they might otherwise ignore.
Structure and Form
“Fog” is a concise poem, reflecting the haiku’s influence with its brevity and focus on nature. The division into two stanzas, one of two lines and one of four, breaks the poem into two distinct but interconnected thoughts. Sandburg’s use of free verse reflects the organic, unstructured form of the fog itself, and his direct, clear language makes the poem’s imagery and metaphor accessible to readers, much like the haiku aims to capture a moment in a few words. The poem stands as an “American haiku,” not through adherence to syllable count but through its spirit and imagery, capturing a fleeting moment in nature with simplicity and depth.
After reading Carl Sandburg’s “Fog,” I feel a deepened sense of calm and attentiveness. The poem’s serene and gentle depiction of the fog through the metaphor of a cat instills a quietude within me, akin to watching a soft mist roll in silently. There’s a beauty in the simplicity of Sandburg’s words that prompts me to reflect on the often unnoticed grace of natural phenomena. The imagery of the fog sitting on silent haunches before it moves on evokes a feeling of transience, reminding me of life’s fleeting moments that are there to be cherished. This poem has left me with a newfound appreciation for the quiet whispers of nature that surround us.