'I Hear America Singing' by Walt Whitman
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I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics--each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat--the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench--the hatter singing as
The wood-cutter's song--the ploughboy's, on his way in the morning,
or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother--or of the young wife at work--or
of the girl sewing or washing--Each singing what belongs to
her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day--At night, the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.10
Editor 1 Interpretation
Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing": A Celebration of the Working Class
When was the last time you stopped to listen to the voices of ordinary people? The voices that carry the melodies of daily life, the sounds of hard work, joy, and hope. Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets, did just that in his poem "I Hear America Singing." Published in 1860 in his collection, "Leaves of Grass," the poem celebrates the diversity, strength, and beauty of the American working class. Through vivid imagery, musical diction, and an empathetic tone, Whitman invites us to listen to the songs of America and to recognize the dignity and worth of all those who contribute to the nation's prosperity and freedom.
The Music of Democracy
From the very first line, Whitman sets the tone of his poem with a powerful metaphor: "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear." The word "singing" suggests a joyous and harmonious activity, while "varied" implies diversity and multiplicity. Whitman is not interested in a monolithic or hierarchical vision of America; he wants to capture the polyphony of its people, their different voices, and their shared humanity. The word "carols" adds a religious or spiritual dimension to the poem, as if the songs of America were not only expressions of individual joy but also of collective faith and hope. The use of the present tense also gives the poem a sense of immediacy and vitality. Whitman is not describing a past or future America, but the America he hears singing now, in the present moment.
Whitman does not limit himself to a single voice or profession. Instead, he listens to the songs of "the mechanics" who work with their hands and tools, "the carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam," "the boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat," "the shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench," and so on. Each worker has his or her own song, his or her own way of expressing pride and pleasure in the work he or she does. Whitman does not judge or rank the different occupations, but celebrates them all equally: "The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing." He even includes the songs of the slaves, who may not sing out of joy but out of defiance and survival: "The negro driver driving his six horses through the crowd, / The livery-manneyond the footman, each with a bow'd head." Whitman's inclusiveness and empathy are remarkable, especially in a time when slavery and racism were still rampant in America.
The Poetry of Democracy
Whitman's musicality and democratic ethos are not limited to the content of his poem but extend to its form and style. "I Hear America Singing" is written in free verse, a form that does not follow any strict meter or rhyme scheme but relies on the natural rhythms and cadences of speech. Whitman is not trying to impose an external structure on the voices of America but to capture their organic and spontaneous flow. This is evident in the way he repeats and varies certain words and phrases, such as "singing," "carols," "mechanics," "mother," and "young wife." The repetition creates a sense of unity and harmony, while the variation adds richness and complexity. Whitman's language is also full of metaphors and images that evoke the physical and sensory experience of work and play. For example, he describes the "strong delicious" odor of the wood that the carpenter measures, the "clack of the trowel" that the mason uses, and the "humming" of the spinning-wheel that the woman operates. Each image is a miniature poem in itself, a testament to the beauty and dignity of labor.
Another aspect of Whitman's style is his use of catalogs, or long lists of items, people, or ideas. The catalog is a common feature of epic poetry, but Whitman adapts it to his democratic and inclusive vision. In "I Hear America Singing," the catalog serves both to amplify and to diversify the voices of America. Whitman starts with a general statement ("I hear America singing") and then proceeds to enumerate the different singers he hears. He does not stop at a few professions but goes on to include dozens of them, from the "ploughboy" to the "President," from the "young fellow" to the "old man," from the "sailor" to the "miner." The effect of the catalog is cumulative and democratic. Each new item adds to the richness and complexity of America's song, and each item has its own value and dignity. The catalog is also a way of challenging the traditional hierarchy of genres and subjects in poetry. Whitman refuses to confine himself to the lofty themes and forms of classical or Romantic poetry but embraces the everyday world and the ordinary people who inhabit it.
The Democracy of Poetry
"I Hear America Singing" is not only a celebration of America's working class but also a manifesto of Whitman's poetic vision. Whitman believed that poetry should be democratic, inclusive, and accessible to all. He rejected the elitism, formalism, and obscurity of traditional poetry and sought to create a new kind of poetry that would reflect the vitality, diversity, and freedom of America. Whitman wanted his poetry to be like America itself, open and expansive, welcoming and inclusive. He famously declared in the preface to "Leaves of Grass": "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem." He also said: "To have great poets, there must be great audiences too." Whitman's poetry was not meant to be read only by the educated and cultured elite but by all Americans, regardless of their social status or education. He wanted his poetry to be a source of inspiration and affirmation for the common people, to help them see the beauty and dignity of their own lives.
"I Hear America Singing" is a perfect embodiment of Whitman's democratic and expansive vision of poetry. The poem is not only about America but is America itself, in its diversity, creativity, and vitality. The poem is also a model of how poetry can be both musical and meaningful, how it can speak to the heart and the mind, how it can capture the beauty and complexity of everyday life. The poem is a reminder that poetry is not a luxury or an ornament but a vital part of our humanity, a way of expressing our deepest emotions and thoughts, a way of connecting with others and with ourselves.
In "I Hear America Singing," Walt Whitman gives voice to the voiceless, celebrates the uncelebrated, and sings the song of democracy. The poem is a timeless tribute to the dignity and worth of all those who contribute to the building of America, whether they be mechanics, carpenters, boatmen, shoemakers, or slaves. The poem is also a testament to the power and beauty of poetry, the art that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, the mundane into the sacred, and the individual into the universal. Whitman's poem is a call to listen to the songs of America, to recognize the value and diversity of its people, and to embrace the democratic and inclusive spirit that defines the nation. As Whitman himself wrote: "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry I Hear America Singing: An Ode to the American Spirit
Walt Whitman's "Poetry I Hear America Singing" is a classic ode to the American spirit. It is a celebration of the diverse and vibrant voices that make up the fabric of America. The poem is a tribute to the working class, the farmers, the mechanics, the carpenters, the boatmen, and the mothers who sing as they go about their daily tasks. It is a hymn to the beauty of the American landscape, the sounds of the city, and the songs of the people.
The poem is structured as a series of vignettes, each one describing a different group of people and their unique contribution to the American experience. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with its opening line, "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear." This line captures the essence of the poem, which is the celebration of the diversity of voices that make up America. Whitman goes on to describe the different songs he hears, from the "mechanic's song" to the "ploughboy's on his way in the morning."
The second stanza focuses on the carpenter, who "measures his plank or beam" as he sings. This image of the carpenter singing as he works is a powerful one, as it captures the joy and pride that comes from doing a job well. The third stanza describes the boatman, who sings as he "drops his anchor" and "sings what belongs to him in his boat." This image of the boatman singing as he navigates the waters is a reminder of the importance of the sea to the American experience.
The fourth stanza is a tribute to the mothers of America, who sing as they go about their daily tasks. Whitman describes the mother "singing with her babe on her breast" and the "singing with her sewing machine." This image of the mother singing as she cares for her child or works on her sewing is a reminder of the importance of family and community in the American experience.
The fifth stanza is a tribute to the singers of the city, who "sing on the sidewalks with their strong melodious songs." This image of the city as a place of music and song is a powerful one, as it captures the energy and vitality of urban life. The final stanza is a tribute to the poets, who "sing the body electric" and "sing the open road." This image of the poet as a visionary and a wanderer is a reminder of the importance of imagination and creativity in the American experience.
Throughout the poem, Whitman celebrates the diversity of voices that make up America. He celebrates the working class, the farmers, the mechanics, the carpenters, the boatmen, the mothers, the singers of the city, and the poets. He celebrates the beauty of the American landscape, the sounds of the city, and the songs of the people. He celebrates the American spirit, which is characterized by hard work, creativity, and a deep love of freedom.
The poem is also notable for its use of free verse. Whitman's use of free verse was revolutionary at the time, as it broke with the traditional forms of poetry that had dominated the literary world for centuries. Free verse allowed Whitman to capture the rhythms and cadences of everyday speech, and to create a poetry that was more democratic and accessible to a wider audience.
In conclusion, "Poetry I Hear America Singing" is a classic ode to the American spirit. It is a celebration of the diversity of voices that make up America, and a tribute to the working class, the farmers, the mechanics, the carpenters, the boatmen, the mothers, the singers of the city, and the poets. It is a hymn to the beauty of the American landscape, the sounds of the city, and the songs of the people. It is a reminder of the importance of hard work, creativity, and a deep love of freedom in the American experience. And it is a testament to the power of free verse to capture the rhythms and cadences of everyday speech, and to create a poetry that is more democratic and accessible to a wider audience.
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