Walt Whitman: Poems

Walt Whitman: Poems Summary and Analysis of "I Hear America Singing"


In “I Hear America Singing,” the speaker describes various "carols" that arise from different figures in the American working class as people go about their work. He hears the mechanics, the carpenter, the mason, and the boatman singing. The deckhand, shoemaker, hatter, wood-cutter, and ploughboy sing their own songs, as well. The speaker celebrates each individual song, which provides the connection between the worker and his/her task: for example, "the deckhand [sings] on the steamboat deck" and "the shoemaker [sings] as he sits on his bench." The speaker mentions the working women, as well. The mother and the young wife sing, as does the girl doing her sewing and washing. Each person in the poem has an individual carol, and together, they create the sound of "America Singing."


The poem consists of one stanza, which is made up of eleven lines. Whitman writes in his characteristic free verse. The structure is simple - it follows the simple list format that Whitman commonly employs in his poetry. One by one, he lists the different members of the American working class and describes the way they sing as they perform their respective tasks. He formats each line and sentence similarly, as many begin with the word "the," and contain phrases that are variations on "as he ___" or "on his way to ___." This structural choice gives the lines a quick pace and an a rhythmic whimsicality. Because of this, the poem gives the reader the sensation of hearing these carols in rapid succession.

This poem exemplifies the theme of musicality in Whitman's poetry. Whitman uses music to emphasize the interconnectedness of the human experience. Even though each worker sings his or her individual song, the act of singing is universal, and by extension, all of the workers unite under one common American identity.

Although Whitman is describing actual songs in this poem, there are instances earlier in the collection where he uses the word "sing" to stand in for "write" when referring to his poetry. This is because of Whitman's belief that poetry was strongest as an oral medium. Whitman wanted his poems to be spoken aloud because the words became more powerful when they can transcend the page. Because of this strong connection between music and poetry, Whitman often wrote his poems in a way that mimicked the natural rhythms of recitation and music.

The tone of the poem is joyful, whimsical, and hopeful. Whitman celebrates in the common American worker, magnifying his characters with descriptors such as "robust," "friendly," "blithe," and "strong." He highlights individuals that often go unnoticed in classic poems; these older verses focus on tales of brave soldiers and heroes. Ultimately, “I Hear America Singing” is a love poem to the nation. Whitman uses the small variations in individual experiences to crafts a wholesome, honest, and hardworking American identity.