W Walt Whitman

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman’s piece-de-resistance, ‘I Hear America Singing’ has been analyzed from various aspects, including the poet’s inclinations, aspirations, and devotion to the working populace of a thriving American society. All in all, his poetic prose free-flows with vibrancy, energy, and sheer respect for proletariat members of America.  

Celebrated American poet, Walt Whitman published his poem ‘I Hear America Singing’ in the poetic collection titled ‘Leaves of Grass’ in 1860, along with Emily Dickinson established the foundations of modern American poetry, championing masses in his works.

Walt Whitman sees a thriving American society from his happy-go-lucky perspective. According to him, America is en-route to progress with all the members of society contributing with a will and selfless zeal. As each character sings his songs as part of the proletariat class, the poetry is simplistic and straightforward. The terms carols and songs refer to their uniqueness of character and work.


Poetic Form

Walt Whitman was an experimental poet, toying with forms of poetry. He is also known as the father of free verse poetry. He deemed himself above rigors of rhyme and meter since Whitman used free verses freely. However, his poetry is not a bunch of non-rhyming lines as ‘I Hear America Singing’ is a decent, tightly moderated poem. The poem is a listing of manual workers, their work content, and singing along the way.

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-hand singing on the steamboat deck

As is the case, Walt Whitman’s poems tend to get lengthy as they progress, whereas they are tightly managed in the beginning. This phenomenon is called anaphora as repetition keeps recurring. It is the polar opposite of traditional poetry norms where verses controlled tightly in order to maintain the rhyming sequence. In the case of Walt Whitman, he aspired to seek freedom of self-exploration and discovery, rising above conventional forms like a true American.


Poetic Structure

Before doing into the nitty-gritty of his poetry, it’s imperative to note certain aspects of his poetry. Noted as a pioneer of free-verse poetry, Walt Whitman wasn’t the original inventor. Free verse is a poetic form, having an inherent absence of meter, rhyme, and rhythm. However, the verses have rhyme and meter, the poem itself is erratic. Rhythm is invoked by using poetic devices such as repetition, alliteration, and such mechanisms. The form harmonizes well with the content. The poetic structure breaks shackles of European adhered poetic standards. It is similar to Romantic-era poetry which revered individualism.


Analysis of I Hear America Singing

Stanza One

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

As the patriotic poem initializes, Walt Whitman seems fixated with the working-class of American society. The poet embarks on praising the working populace of the American society, highlighting individualistic traits in sheer emotion. As a result, the poem resonates with a chirpy mood, inducing affirmative notes of encouragement towards its addressed subjects. The words, ‘I hear American singing’ is imperative to ongoing praise for the American labor class, envisioning them as equally important roles in contributing towards American society.


Stanza Two

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

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 he stands,

Now, the poet sets himself in chronicling a variety of members embroiled in participating in their respective methods to American society. Each particular character/ professional is seen going on his destined path merrily, feeling prized in playing his role in the bigger picture. Each character defines their own uniqueness as he sings with his occupation. In the grand scheme of things, all of these singing characters are depicted as Americans. Creating a socio-economic divide, it’s clear that the poet visualizes his personalized vision of America, one founded upon the hard work of the proletariat class. The primary idea of the government hypothesized by Walt Whitman is that of, “for the people, by the people”. Very cleverly, Walt Whitman has removed upper echelons of societal individuals from his magnum opus. It’s his own vision of future America, an America embracing with open arms bourgeoisie class in day-to-day roles of government.


Stanza Three

The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at 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 him or 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

It’s interesting to take into consideration the historical connotations mentioned herein. He has specifically dedicated two lines to the female populace of thriving America, entailing a sewing girl, a wife, and a mother. He deems their respective contribution in an emerging American nation as vital pivots necessary for driving prosperity and change. It’s an allegorical linkage to a time when women were barred from national voting. They had no consequent say in government machinery or elected officials.

Walt Whitman had a polar opposite vision of American as opposed to the prevalent scenario. In this vision, women working domestically, as well as professionals, are deemed as equals, busied in contributing to society on the whole. Parenting is deemed as a noble profession, pivotal for securing a prospective future generation.

Walt Whitman appreciates and seems inclined towards individualism. The notion of individuals singing their personalized songs is worth appreciating and respect. Singing is an outright allegory to individualism. Each individual is a cog in the American system, and pivotal to democratic machinery in general. As a result, Walt Whitman feels prized and proud of the dedication and due diligence the middle-class section puts in cultivating a society founded on respect and rights.

As the poem concludes, he hints at the right to celebrate and party after a long day’s work. He ends his swansong on a bright, chirpy note, after highlighting individualistic contributions and all sundry professionals tied in a mechanized system.


Historical Perspective

‘I Hear America Singing’ was initially published in 1860 in ‘Leave of Grass’ edition. It is steeped in American patriotism, moves its reader by Walt Whitman’s emotional prose and usage of free verse. His basic premises are the proletariat class, entailing ordinary manual labor work-force working hard in contributing to American society.

As each character sings his personalized song, involved in his carol; blending into the American society. As a result, the people are enrolled in the democratic process of government, based on the ideology of, ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’, each individual has a voice. Interestingly, the poet has cleverly omitted upper echelons of American society, deeming them unworthy of a place in his legendary poem. The poem portrays the proletariat class of America as its true champions.


Personal Commentary

‘I Hear America Singing’ is in essence, a chirpy poem and dedicated to the bourgeoisie section of the American public. From the shoemaker to the carpenter, boatman, mason, and mechanic are all playing their part in the bigger picture of America. Even the female populace is taken into apt consideration, acknowledging their contribution, prizing them with joy and blithe. The poem’s strength lies in Whitman’s opinion, the working class of America, encouraging them to go about their ways, viewing them as the future of a prospective America. For Whitman, the faith in labor is the greatest asset Americans have. Walter Whitman seems highly appreciative of the diverse work-force, detailing them in their vitality and variety, acting as a core component of American society. This collective collaboration will go a long way towards creating an empowered society.

The various workers and professions are associated via their singing. Walt Whitman gives equivalent importance to women and young girls involved in contributing towards thriving American society performing their chores. This poem is composed of a single stanza, entailing eleven verses. Writing in free verse form, the poem is a drop-down list of working-class professionals, working hard to meet ends. However, he paints them in a thriving light, portraying them as true champions of present and future America. He ensures his lines rhyme as they progress along, however, abstains from conventional forms of poetry. Via music, he engenders a patriotic anthem for future Americans, appreciating and respecting them loftily.

He unites the American bourgeoisie class single-handedly with a melodious poem, cleverly shying away from praising the elite class. The poem’s overall tone is upbeat, optimistic, and chirping with energy. Using a flurry of motivational language, he downplays any notion of pessimism and hardships faced by proletariat society. Ultimately, it’s tantamount to being a national anthem for the American nation. The word ‘sing’ also represents at other times ‘writing’, since Whitman deemed pen is mightier than the sword. As is known, Walt wanted his poems to be recited loudly, instilling hope, encouragement, and vigor in fellow listeners. It transcended from mere pages to the hearts and minds of its readers. He often wrote following to rules of rhyming and music

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Omer joined the Poem Analysis team back in November 2015. He has a keen eye for poetry and enjoys analysing them, providing his intereptation of poems from the past and present.

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