Poem of the Day: ‘I Hear America Singing’
Whitman’s poem expresses his joy in the nation and its buzzing activity: ‘this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, Hog-stomping, Baroque country of ours,’ as Tom Wolfe once put it.
It’s hard to choose a poem from Walt Whitman (1819–1892) for the Poem of the Day feature here in The New York Sun. In part that’s because so many of his best poems are too long to read in a morning article: the Whitman of a capacious spirit, writing deep, profoundly American, non-gooey stuff — “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” for example, or “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” — rather than the Whitman of narcissistic self-indulgence.
Still, for his birthday on May 31, it’s worth remembering that Whitman is a real American presence, his poetry not ruined by the many attempts to claim him for various (mostly leftist) political or social causes. Here at the Sun we’ve already run in past months Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” and “The Wound-Dresser,” but even more than those poems, “I Hear America Singing” expresses his joy in the nation and its buzzing activity: “this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, Hog-stomping, Baroque country of ours,” as Tom Wolfe once put it. Whitman loved the multitudes in their individuality, as much as anyone short of God can, “Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else.”
I Hear America Singing
by Walt Whitman
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,
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 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.
With “Poem of the Day,” The New York Sun offers a daily portion of verse selected by Joseph Bottum with the help of the North Carolina poet Sally Thomas, the Sun’s associate poetry editor. Tied to the day, or the season, or just individual taste, the poems are drawn from the deep traditions of English verse: the great work of the past, together with the living poets who keep those traditions alive. The goal is always to show that poetry can still serve as a delight to the ear, an instruction to the mind, and a tonic for the soul.