Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman: Explanation Essay

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"I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman: Explanation of the Poem

Walt Whitman was born in 1918 in Long Island, New York. He died in 1892 and is best known for his book of poetry, Leaves of Grass. As a 19th century writer, Leaves of Grass, gained Whitman national attention. At the time, Whitman was the first American poet to gain such tremendous recognition. I Hear America Singing was originally from a cluster of numbered Chants Democratic. Whitman removed it from the cluster, giving the poem its own title. He made several changes to the first line of the poem in 1860. After that, several composers put the poem to music and at some point throughout history; over 300 musical scores would be created to interpret Whitman's poems. He eventually removed the final three lines of the poem and the version of I Hear America Singing that we read today was completed.


Whitman is known for altering his repetitions in an attempt to prevent a type of rhythm that would erase any kind of individuality for each singer. Throughout Whitman's poem, I Hear America Singing, Whitman uses various class of workman, implying that each is signing the same song.

"The boatman singing what belongs to him is his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck."

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Within this particular piece, Whitman implies that each individual is singing an individual song or lyrics (by implying, "belongs to him or her"), however, it is also suggested that each individual is part of one large choir. Each choir member is listed by a specific occupation, but for the time the piece was written, each occupation was commonly part of the American labor force. Whitman's repetitive use of the word "singing" throughout the poem gives the reader an action to consider, which is also possessive.

"The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench -- the hatter singing as he stands."

TOPIC: Essay on Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman: Explanation Assignment

The line about the shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench and the hatter doing the same, but as he stands, also provides great imagery about each individual that is part of the overall choir, so to speak. Even though one man sits for his job and the other man spends his days standing, each is completing the same task; both individuals are getting the day's work done while both are singing individual songs, but songs that are part of one choir or event.

Whitman also changes his writing pattern partially through the poem. Some poets choose to continue the same writing pattern, however, this change of pattern allows the reader to recognize and see the reality of the poem they are reading, while remembering that the poem is fiction and is not reality.

Whitman is famous for his use of lists or catalogs without resorting to conventional rhyme and meter, as other poets do. He is also famous for his use of parallelism to connect the elements in his lists or catalogs. Since the boatman's song is sung while he is on his boat, some feel that the implication is that he will be singing a different song once he leaves his boat. Both the boatman and the woodcutter have implications of ownership in the poem. Everyone on the boat is singing their song and each individual is allowed to sing the song of their choosing, which ultimately created one compiled song or choir-type of atmosphere. We often think of the "owner" being the only individual privileged enough to "sing a song," however, this poem reminds us that in America, we are all considered equal. There are times when an individual may be in a position of power and therefore may be "above" others, but there are also times when that individual will find themselves standing or sitting next to someone equally.

Whitman's consistent use of "I hear" at the beginning of each line stresses to the reader that listening is more valuable than speaking in some cases. The main composition of the poem belongs to the laborer, rather than the owner or the captain of the industry. Whitman writes the poem as the speaker being merely an observer, rather than part of the team or choir, who is singing each man's individual tune or lyrics, while compiling a "song" as a unit.


Walt Whitman is metaphorically describing laboring people who are named with singing metaphors. The poem describes the laborers as "singing" and the speaker claims to be hearing the songs they are singing. To some, this indicates that the poem speaker or Whitman himself is merely watching the people work as a team and is using "song" as a metaphor for their labors. Whitman wrote the poem with a free verse style. Each metaphor "song" that the individuals being described in the poem are singing are all described as being different. This is described with the following line:

"I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear."

By referring to the songs as carols, Whitman suggests that these are not ordinary songs, but that the laborers are singing happy songs or songs of praise and joy. Whitman also speaks in a tone throughout the poem that would make the reader believe he admired the many skilled laborers he is watching throughout the poem. In Whitman's eyes, each laborer is "happy" and working happy as well. In a sense, the laborers are working equally; all striving to achieve the same goal, even if they are at different levels or have different privileges.

In speaking about the mechanic, the mechanic is described as being strong. Part of the carpenter's song involves measuring planks and beams, which reminds the reader that the singing laborers are simply metaphors. The boatman sings a song about his boat and the ownership of the boat while at the same time, the deckhand is singing on the deck of the boat. Moving onto the woodcutter and the farmer plowing his field, the poem begins to move through a typical American day. People often attribute boats and ship labor as an early morning activity. The woodcutter would be working mid-morning and the farmer ought to be plowing his field throughout the day and will still be working as the sun goes down.

Finally, the young wife sings a "delicious" song while she works, which implies that she is cooking dinner. The young girl who is doing her sewing and laundry could possibly be a maid or the daughter or sibling of the woman who is singing the "delicious" song.

Each individual who is discussed throughout the poem is singing a song of individuality and uniqueness. Whitman talks about the young, robust men at night, singing with open mouths and he seems to become excited at the thought of the young men having a good time. This ends the poem and draws everything together, essentially describing an entire day in America.


In his poem, I Hear America Singing, Whitman concentrates on common American laborers who are completing every day, common tasks. Whitman shows how these every day, average people, are happy in their accomplishments, even if those accomplishments are simple and are considered to be common. He also connects the people in the country together, making them into one unit. He accomplishes this by using both the political and economic aspect of many individual's and their lives. Additionally, he outlines a typical day in America and regardless of what the individuals are doing in their day, he speaks of how they are happy and talks with such imagery, that the reader can almost see what he wants them to see.

Whitman not only connects the individuals he describes throughout the poem with the metaphor of song, but he connects them with the fact… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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