I Hear America Singing SUMMARY In the poem “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman, the reader envisions a country of people working for the greater good of mankind. These people come together as part of the whole society developing industry and production. Each person has a different occupation, but each job is important to the bigger picture. The bigger picture and theme being that of a country in which everyone is working together to create a successful and harmonious civilization. The mechanics keep the engines of the cars, boats, and machines in factories running operatively.
The mason, deckhand, shoemaker, hatter, woodcutter, and ploughboy each play a vital role in their occupation. Each person is important to society. Each person is needed for the various trades that make the country run smoothly. Without a skilled person in every job needed, the other fields may suffer. Whitman is expressing that each person is important. The verbs used in this poem are deliberate and indicates action, keeping the poem moving in such a pace that the reader is compelled to feel as if he or she is going through the workday with each laborer.
Verbs such as measures, makes, sits, stands, sewing, and washing invokes moving pictures of people performing their different jobs and each of the actions they take during their day. Phrases such as “blithe and strong,” “delicious singing,” and “strong, melodious songs” appeals to the imagination with the strength of men intermingled with the beauty of song. Whitman is articulating his view of Amer...
ica as a group of strong people, both men and women, yet both of these groups are beautiful for the work they perform.
This poem demonstrates typical Whitman techniques. Although there is no end rhyme, we hear a sense of melody in his chiming repetitions and a rhythm in the length of his lines that substitutes for the metrical pattern we expect in conventional poetry. Line one announces the main metaphor. Individual Americans doing their various jobs are a harmonious chorus of happy, proud, creative workers. The speaker hears the “singing” of mechanics, a carpenter, a mason, a boatman, a steamboat deckhand, a shoemaker, a maker of hats, a woodcutter, and a ploughboy.
Each tradesman or laborer performs his labor with the same pride and exultation that one might hear from a singer. In democratic America, the speaker seems to say, there is no gradation of importance attached to the jobs performed or the performers of those jobs. Whitman’s attitude toward Americans is uplifting and positive. He exalts Americans and the hard labor they perform and sees it as a promising land where each person is unique, but united “Each singing what belongs to [her] and to none else” ( line 8). Whitman praises the work values and ethics of the American people.
He depicts a country of people who work hard, yet through the hard work, they enjoy the fruits of their labors “The day what belongs to the day At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly” ( line 9 ). When the title of the poem is first read, you imagine that America as a country is
singing. But Whitman does not mean that at all. Beyond the literal, he means that all of the people of America working in their different occupations don’t actually sing the same song, but by coming together with their work, and working together for the whole of the country, these people are creating and developing the industry of America.
To Whitman, this is like everyone is singing together in a beautiful song. Whitman also uses nouns that denote labor and industry such as: mechanics, mason, work, deckhand, shoemaker, hatter, woodcutter, ploughboy, and mother. These words conjure images of the working class society. This is the majority of Americans. These people are the ones contributing to America with their productive labor. He concludes with mention of female voices. A mother performing her motherly duties is “singing” and the sound of her voice is “delicious. ” The same goes for “the young wife at work, or . . the girl sewing or washing. ” In the last two lines we hear the after-work or off-duty songs of a “party of young fellows, robust, friendly,/ Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs. ” Whitman mentions no brilliant artists or corporate executives. The people in his poem are common folk without individual names, but in his celebratory verse they are all idealized. Each one finds joy in the dignity of his or her labor. In eleven lines of verse, the word “singing” appears eleven times, or twelve if you include the title.
The word is used figuratively to reflect happy pride in performance of labor. This is a poem that voices American democracy. Its language is muscular, its pulse vibrant, its mood exultant. We will hear similar tonalities and exuberance in the free verse of Carl Sandburg, who was 14 when Whitman died. Free verse is not just prose written with irregular line endings. Free verse is poetry without regular patterns of rhyme, rhythm or meter. Note: free verse has rhythm and meter. The pattern, however, is irregular.
Rhythm is often created through the use of other poetic devices, including repetition, alliteration, and other sound devices. Although it is “free” of metrical restrictions, it is still patterned and unified by the conventional poetic devices of repetition, assonance, and alliteration. The article “the”, ordinarily disregarded, begins seven of the eleven lines and establishes a pattern that is seen on the page and heard when the poem is given voice. Alliteration lends ear-pleasing melody in lines 4 and 5 with the “m’s” of mason and makes, and the “b’s” of boatman . . . belongs . . . oat. The assonance of “ing” sound in the repetitions of singing, sewing, and washing lend the sense of activity inherent in all present participles. In this poem, he explores repetition which creates a melody of its own. The word ‘singing’ appears in all but six lines. This word is very cheerful and light. It gives the reader a sense of happiness. It creates a refreshing mood as it quickly takes you through each setting. It is alive with visuals. It conjures up a small town in the reader’s mind, giving him