Fog

What do you think of when you hear the word "fog"? Do you think of the beauty of a morning in the woods and watching the sun rise through the haze above the ocean?  Or do you think of chilly mornings heading to school when the fog makes it hard to see the road? For most people, fog is more of a nuisance than a source of beauty. But Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) reminds us that even the most mundane aspects of the natural world can be sources of beauty in his 1916 poem "Fog." In this short, six-line poem, Sandburg characterizes fog as mysterious, playful, and beautiful by comparing it to a cat. 

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Contents
Table of contents

    "Fog" at a Glance

    Written By

    Carl Sandburg

    Publication Date

    1916

    Form

    Free verse

    Meter

    Inconsistent

    Rhyme Scheme

    None

    Poetic Devices

    Extended metaphor

    Imagery

    Enjambment

    Frequently noted imagery

    Fog

    Little cat feet

    Harbor and city

    Silent haunches

    Tone

    Calm, playful

    Key themes

    Beauty and mystery of the natural world

    Meaning

    Even the mundane details of the natural world that people take for granted are mysterious and beautiful.

    "Fog" by Carl Sandburg

    Sandburg's "Fog" first appeared in his 1916 collection Chicago Poems. It was this collection that established Sandburg's reputation as a poet. According to Norman Corwin,1 Sandburg wrote the poem after witnessing fog in Chicago. Sandburg was reportedly on his way to meet with a judge when he took a shortcut through Grant Park. He had a perfect view of the fog over Chicago Harbor and decided to write the poem before his meeting.

    Chicago had become Sandburg's adopted home. After traveling between cities and bouncing from odd job to odd job, Sandburg finally found a steady job as a journalist in Chicago. Growing up in a very poor family, Sandburg dropped out of school at 13 to work and help support his family. Although he briefly attended college and dabbled in poetry, Sandburg had never written professionally until he moved to Chicago.

    Chicago completely changed Sandburg's life, as attested to in several of his poems and the title of his first major poetry collection, Chicago Poems (1916). In Chicago, Sandburg met Harriet Monroe, who published many of his poems in her magazine Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. She encouraged him to continue writing memorable free-verse poems like "Fog." Sandburg lived in Chicago for 11 years before moving to Michigan.

    The city is unnamed in the poem; however, if Chicago is the setting of "Fog," it is important for its historical meaning and the personal meaning in Sandburg's life. When "Fog" was written in the early 1900s, America was undergoing a massive shift from agriculture to industry.

    While many poets mourned the deterioration of natural beauty at the hands of industrialization, Sandburg attempted to find beauty in modern America. Much of his poetry examines the beauty in industry while also recognizing its harmful implications.

    Many scholars presume "Fog" was written while Sandburg was in Chicago; if that is the case, Sandburg's poem can be considered a seminal work in the Chicago Renaissance. With the advent of Monroe's Poetry magazine, New York and other big literary cities no longer had a monopoly on publishing and the literary world. Chicago underwent a renaissance in the early 1900s, led in part by Sandburg and his contemporaries.

    "Fog" Text

    The fog comeson little cat feet.It sits lookingover harbor and cityon silent haunchesand then moves on."

    "Fog" Poem Summary

    The speaker compares the fog in the air to a cat. The fog rolls through silently "on little cat feet" (2) and seems to watch the harbor and the city. It doesn't do anything but sit quietly, just observing while sitting on "silent haunches" (5). After a while, the fog "moves on" (6) and disappears without making a noise.

    Tone of the Poem "Fog"

    The tone of "Fog" is calm and playful. The light tone is created by the natural imagery and the speaker's word choice. The metaphor makes fog an endearing presence in the poem by comparing it to a mysterious, playful cat.

    Fog is an everyday occurrence that most people react to either neutrally or negatively. Fog can make travel difficult or impossible. As a cloud on the ground, it cuts visibility down incredibly. Fog occurs mostly in the mornings and is dissipated by sunlight. Today, we are most accustomed to how fog affects airplanes and cars, but in Sandburg's time, it also affected boats and railways. Fog was a considerable problem in the Chicago Harbor, where boats relied on visibility to dock safely.

    Fog, Foggy Harbor, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Although fog normally has negative connotations, the playful association with the cat keeps the poem light.

    But the speaker doesn't talk about any of the negatives associated with fog. Instead, he presents it as a playful cat who watches the city. By association, fog is given a kind of life full of intrinsic value. The fog doesn't cause any damage or harm to anyone. Instead, like a cat, it pads in on little feet and simply observes the city before scampering off again.

    It's also interesting to note the cat is presented as inquisitive and captivated, but not vicious or unfriendly. Cats, by their nature, are predators, and they have often gotten a bad reputation in literature as a source of bad luck. None of those connotations are present in "Fog," and the tone is kept light and playful with words like "little cat feet" and "silent haunches."

    "Fog" Poem Analysis

    With only six lines and 21 words, "Fog" relies on extended metaphor and imagery as its primary literary devices.

    Extended metaphor

    The entire poem is an extended metaphor comparing the fog to a cat. This makes the fog endearing and gives it life and vitality. Instead of a mindless, inanimate occurrence, fog is given the ability to think, act, and move purposefully. The fog "comes / on little cat feet" (2), "sits" (3), and "moves on" (6). It is presented as a purposeful natural being, moving of its own free will.

    Extended Metaphor: a metaphor that extends over lines, stanzas, and paragraphs; building on a simple metaphor using extensive imagery, figurative language, and comparisons.

    Fog, Orange cat, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The comparison to the cat makes the fog playful and mysterious.

    The fog becomes both mysterious and mischievous when it is compared to a cat. Cats have been presented as ambivalent creatures throughout history. The ancient Egyptians viewed cats as sources of good luck and divine beings because of their mice-hunting abilities. In Europe, however, cats were associated with superstition and evil. Cats were killed in the Middle Ages because they were incorrectly blamed for spreading the Bubonic Plague. Cats were also associated with witches and the devil, further tarnishing their reputation in a predominantly Christian Europe.

    With all of these different connotations, cats are often depicted as mysterious. And by comparing the fog to a cat, these connections are also transferred to the fog itself. Instead of being a mindless force, it becomes mysterious and ambivalent like a cat.

    Can you think of another metaphor that would have been effective at characterizing the fog?

    Imagery

    The imagery is important in characterizing both the cat and the fog. In the second line, the speaker describes the fog as having "little cat feet." Instead of making the cat sly, predatory, or stealthy—all of which could be used to describe a cat—the speaker uses the word "little." This purposeful imagery presents the cat (and the fog) as a cute, playful force instead of a hulking, violent figure.

    The speaker also says the fog sits "on silent haunches" (5) like a cat would when it's getting ready to pounce. This further contributes to the playfulness of the cat, who watches the city like it might watch prey. But the potential danger of the moment is dissipated by the cat's small size and cuteness. Readers get the image of a small kitten overestimating itself as it stalks a much bigger target (the city and harbor).

    Imagery: descriptive language that appeals to one of the five senses

    Fog, Kitten stalking prey in grass, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The imagery depicts the cat as a little, playful force.

    Enjambment

    In the second stanza especially, Sandburg uses enjambment to great effect. The lines flow together without a formal stop between them:

    It sits lookingover harbor and cityon silent haunchesand then moves on" (3-6)

    The enjambment mirrors the graceful way in which cats walk. Instead of stopping abruptly at the end of the lines, the lines flow into one another. This adds a lithe, graceful feel to the poem.

    Enjambment: the continuation of a sentence after the line breaks

    Theme in the Poem "Fog"

    The main theme in the poem is the beauty and mystery of the natural world. Although fog and cats are incredibly different, they are both parts of the natural world. And by comparing the two, the speaker shows they are both inherently beautiful and mysterious. Like a cat would stalk its prey, the fog seems to watch over the city until it decides to move on. Animals and natural phenomena often behave in ways humans can't comprehend, but the mystery contributes to the world's beauty.

    The fog might seem mundane and annoying, but if people take the time to examine it, they will see its inherent connection to other natural things. Beauty is everywhere if one looks hard enough and considers the natural world around them.

    Fog, Fog over a forest of conifers, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Although fog is an everyday occurrence, the speaker argues that it is meaningful and beautiful if we consider it for what it is rather than how we relate to it.

    Main Idea of the Poem "Fog"

    How often have you seen fog in the morning and quietly rolled your eyes at Mother Nature for making your life slightly more complicated? In a society that only cares about human desires, people are often inconvenienced by nature and want to "fix" things to make their lives easier.

    But Sandburg argues that there is beauty and purpose in all aspects of the natural world, even if humans don't see it. Just because fog feels like an inconvenience to us doesn't mean it's without a purpose. The mundane details of the natural world that people take for granted are mysterious and beautiful. Life becomes more interesting and meaningful if we take the time to appreciate the natural world for what it is instead of how we can control it.

    Fog - Key takeaways

    • "Fog" was written by Carl Sandburg.
    • "Fog" is often thought to be set in Chicago, where Sandburg was living when the poem was published.
    • The poem uses an extended metaphor to compare fog to a little, playful cat.
    • The main theme in the poem is the beauty and mystery of the natural world.
    • The poem's meaning is that even the mundane details of the natural world that people take for granted are mysterious, beautiful, and purposeful.

    References

    1. Corwin, Norman. The World of Carl Sandburg. Harcourt, Brace & World. pp. 30, 32.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Fog

    What is the meaning of "Fog" by Carl Sandburg?

    Even the mundane details of the natural world that people take for granted are mysterious and beautiful. 

    What inspired "Fog" by Carl Sandburg?

    Sandburg was on his way to meet with a judge when he took a shortcut and noticed the fog over the Chicago Harbor. 

    What important lesson does the poem "Fog" teach?

    "Fog" teaches that there is beauty and mystery in even the most mundane aspects of life. 

    Who said "the fog creeps in on little cat feet"?

    This quote is the first two lines of Sandburg's famous poem "Fog."

    What has been personified in the poem "Fog"?

    Fog has been personified as a living being through metaphor, which compares it to a cat. 

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