Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman

Whitman's free verse poem flows very smoothly and clearly with his variation on the American Dream. His first line "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear," just about sums up this poem. His explanation of each occupation and the "songs" each worker sings make America seem like a quaint and hard-working country. Of course, that was many citizens' ideal situation: everyone working hard and earning their living through honest labor. To me, Whitman's poem says that the common, humble worker is what makes America. Not the politicians, not the C.E.O.'s, not the celebrities. The carpenters, masons and shoemakers, the mothers and fathers that work to live, these are the essence of America and its greatness.

The second point to Whitman's poem that I noticed was his emphasis on the ownership which each person, or thing, was given. The carpenter has his wood, the boatman has his boat, the shoemaker has his bench, the women have their sewing or washing, "...each what belongs to her, and to none else." Each person has his or her own special song. And, of course, each person has earned the right to these things through work and determination and hope in his or her endeavors.

The only problem is that all these people seem to have no ambition: as happy as I am that all these people are happy with their lives, I do wonder if the ideas of advancement and accomplishment, which have always been important in our society, have not been completely forgotten in Whitman's poem. There is no emphasis on education, it is all manual labor. Every person has a job, but none of them have aspirations to become anything more than what they already are.

The general operation of America and the many humble professions that Whitman mentions are highly romanticized in this poem, from what I can tell. He paints a warm, happy picture for his audience. Everyone is happy, singing songs and apparently loving their lifestyle. There is no mention of the destitution or hunger or sickness which also came with the less priviledged standard of life in this time period. It seems like Whitman has specifically avoided any mention of these things. It could be seen as rather deceitful, in fact: I'm sure that if people from the time this poem was written could give us a better look at their lives, not everyone would be as optimistic as Whitman. I suppose since he is basically idealizing everything he writes in this poem, though, that it was the best way to get his idea of happiness in America across, however misleading the finished product may be.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting observation in your third paragraph. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but I think you're right. Do we have different ambitions now? Or are we the same?