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I Hear America Singing -- Walt Whitman

No prizes for guessing the poet...
(Poem #246) I Hear America Singing
 I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
 Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it would 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,
 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,

 The woodcutter'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.
-- Walt Whitman
(1860).

For modern readers who've grown up on a steady diet of free verse, it's
difficult to appreciate just how revolutionary Whitman's poetry was for its
time. But think about it - by the mid-1800s, the bright young flames of the
Romantic Revolution had become tired old embers [1]; emotion was obscured by
sentiment; originality by imitation and flattery; righteousness by moralising.
Indeed, a return to the worst excesses of the Augustan poets seemed on the
cards, as writers rehashed the past with no inkling of the way the future was
being shaped around them [2].

Walt Whitman changed all that. His work came like a breath of fresh air to a
reading public stifled by conventional form and diction. His words were simple
and heartfelt, his rhythms natural and unaffected, his ideas sincere and
straightforward. Leaves of Grass is one of the great national epics, a testimony
to the freedom of spirit and endeavour that coloured Whitman's vision of his
country --  he gave a voice to the New World, and in his songs we hear America
singing.

thomas.

PS. This is only a small part of what I have to say about Walt Whitman; I've
saved the rest (both good and bad) for later. Watch this space!

[Footnotes]

[1] Browning's wonderful The Lost Leader chronicles just this phenomenon - the
'betrayal' by Wordsworth of the revolutionary cause, to become a Pillar of the
Establishment (tm). You can read it at poem #130

[2] Funnily enough, it was in the United States that this effect was most
pronounced. My own theory is that  the breaking of political and sanguinary ties
with the Olde Worlde prompted American poets to reaffirm their cultural roots to
a degree far greater than they otherwise would have done.

[Previous Poems]

When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer is a poem I strongly dislike because of its
central thesis; nevertheless, it's worth reading for the artistry of its verse
alone.  You can find it at poem #54
In addition to the poem itself, there's a brief biography of Whitman, and a
longish essay on his importance as a poet (this essay expands on what I've said
today, and has a lot more interesting material besides).

Oh Captain! My Captain! is one of Whitman's most popular poems, and justly so.
It's archived at poem #157

And of course, you can read all of our previous poems at
http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/

9 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

SkIandRun4fun said...

Great poem

DEBBY S. MINARSICH said...

This poem is very inspirational. I can see and feel the words.

Gomiles said...

Read Langston Huges' poem 'I, Too, Sing America'. It's very thought provoking, especially after reading this poem...

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Roger said...

I like this poem,this is the poem comes out from mother,fisherman,carpenter,workers etc with their own feelings.

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