Way 1: First Impressions
My first impression of "I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman is that Whitman is saluting the workforce of America. He is recognizing the hard work of several professions througout the American nation, as well as the happy and satisfied attitude of each laborer. One thing I am not sure of at this point is the final line of the poem which states "At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs." This line does not seem to fit in with the rest of the poem, but I think that it may represent the youth of America.

Way 2: Engaging with the Text
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 the 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 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.

"I Hear America Singing" Video

Whitman is using free verse to write this poem. There is no consistent meter and no rhyme scheme. The only consistent repitition in this poem is the word singing, which is written eleven times throughout the course of the poem. I believe that the usage of the word singing may by Whitman's way of bringing a positive light to the poem. By consistently using the word singing, the poem is always reminding you that the characters in the poem are happy and joyful.


Vertical Thinking: Close Readings of the Text

Way 3: A Point about Form and Its Relationship to Content
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 the 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 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.

As I mentioned in Way 2, Whitman uses free verse in "I Hear America singing. There is no consistent meter and no rhyme scheme. This form of writing in this poem has a strong connection to the content of the poem. Throughout the poem, we read about the several different workers singing their songs throughout their work day. Each person has a different responsibility to society, and has a song to fit that particular responsibility. They all have to have their own ideas and free thinking to perform there duties. The free verse used in this poem represents the independent thoughts and songs of each different worker and profession.

Way 3: Another Point about Form and Its Relationship to Content
"I Hear America Singing" is written as one large stanza. There are several different characters and workers inside the one stanza. Each of the workers in the poem perform different services for America, but as a whole they make up the working class of America. By keeping all of the workers inside one stanza, I believe it represents that each worker and job is of equal importance. Without one of the jobs the poem would be incomplete, just as American society would be incomplete without the service being provided by that worker.


Way 4: Unpacking an Instance of Figurative Language

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 the 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 her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day- At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singning, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

Way 5: Analyzing the Setting

The setting in “I Hear America Singing” is very important to the meaning of the poem. The setting does not take place in any particular time of the year, but occurs each and every day as the citizens of America are working or on their way to and from work. The setting for each different person in the poem is the location in which they work. Whitman is very clever by incorporating many locations from across the country inside the poem. The boatman’s setting is on the water and rivers of America, the wood-cutter’s setting is inside the forests of America, and the mother’s setting is inside the homes of America. The rest of the workers in the poem represent different professions in America that are spread out throughout the country. Whitman is trying to include all regions of America, and by choosing the workers and professions that he did, he successfully accomplished this.

Way 6: Identifying and Analyzing Point of View

“I Hear America Singing” is written in first-person point of view. Whitman writes the poem from his perspective by using the word “I”. Whitman himself is the speaker and tells us that he is watching and listening to the people of America as they live their lives and perform their duties. There are limitations to this point of view in this particular poem. We can only see through the eyes of Whitman, not any of the characters within the poem. If the point of view would change to third-person omniscient, we would gain insight to the thoughts of the characters, but would lose the perspective of Whitman, the narrator. If the point of view would change to third-person limited, we would see the story through one specific character rather than from Whitman himself. Without the first-person point of view, we would not be able to see each individual character and what service they are providing to America.

Way 7: Analyzing Complexity, Ambiguity, & Difficulty

There is one major ambiguity in “I Hear America Singing”. There are many times in which Whitman uses the word “singing”, each time referring to a particular character performing a service to the people of America. If taken literally, the singing would mean a chorus or a tune being sung aloud. Whitman uses the word singing, however, to represent the specific duties and services being performed by the working class of America. The song many be the saw and hammer of the carpenter, or the ax of the wood-cutter. Whitman is trying to tell us that each and every working person in America has a unique and individual part in making America successful.

Way 8: Considering Canonicity

“I Hear America Singing” is a poem that involves a large amount of canon. Whitman uses figurative language and other literary tools to give the poem aesthetic value. Whitman’s use of the word “singing” is one specific example of figurative language. “Singing” has multiple meanings throughout the poem and gives the reader more levels of the poem that need to be explored. “I Hear America Singing” was first published in 1860, and the poem is still widely read and enjoyed. This is another example of the poem having canon. In 1860, America was still being built and each character in the poem had a large part in that. Slavery was still legal at that time as well, and the ploughboy in the poem represents that part of America. All of the characters still play a significant part of America at the present time, which shows why the poem has stood the test of time. Anyone that reads the poem can relate to the characters and their services they provide to America as a whole. It is for these reasons that “I Hear America Singing” has a large amount of canon.



Way 9: Biographical Context
Whitman’s childhood, interests, and life experiences show why he was interested in writing about America’s workers and citizens as he did in “I Hear America Singing.” Whitman was born in 1819, less than 50 years after the birth of the country. By age 11, Whitman finished his formal schooling and then began working in a printing office in New York. Whitman also ran several of his own printing offices and then moved to New Orleans at age 27. The trip to New Orleans was made by train, stagecoach and steamboat, which “widened Walt’s sense of the country’s scope and diversity.” (Folsom and Price) Shortly after arriving in New Orleans, Whitman returned to New York and began writing poetry. In the early 1950’s Whitman released his first edition of Leaves of Grass, which is a collection of poems. After a decade of writing about social issues in journalism, Whitman then was able to voice his American democratic attitude within his poetry. His poetry was “an unprecedented form, a kind of experimental verse cast in unrhymed long lines with no identifiable meter.” (Folsom and Price) Another very interesting fact about Whitman is that he originally did not put his name of the title page of Leaves of Grass. It is suggested that the absence of his name meant that he spoke not for himself, but for America. This biographical information explains much about the way that “I Hear America Singing” was written. The free verse, as well as the appreciation of America is explained by the experiences that Whitman had throughout his life and career.

The Walt Whitman Archive. Folsom, Ed and Price, Kenneth. 2010. 11 May 2010 <http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/walt_whitman/index.html>

Way 10: Historical and Cultural Contexts
The first version of “I Hear America Singing” was published in 1860, with the revised version that I am analyzing was published in the 1867 version of Leaves of Grass. When “I Hear America Singing” was written, the United States of America was a very young country. Slavery was still legal and the country was in the time of Civil War. Some states were threatening to secede the Union, and business and industry was trying to establish itself. At the time in literature, many of the popular names were Thoreau, Emerson, and Longfellow, all of whom were educated men. Whitman ended his formal education at age 11, which was common for that time in America. Whitman was one of the first poets to use free verse, which symbolized the free thinking society which was America. Whitman was a common man, and could easily relate to the mindset of a common worker because many of his friends were fishermen, carpenters and farmers. This is apparent within the poem. Whitman mentions many professions within the poem that were common person jobs at that time. A mason, carpenter, boatman, hatter, mother, and young wife are part of the poem. Whitman also uses the plough-boy, which was a black slave worker at that time. There are no mentions of bankers, lawyers or high class executives. This shows that Whitman is including all working class Americans, whether it be black, white, male, female, Northern or Southern United States. Whitman saw the good in all common Americans, which is why he was able to write about them working and singing their profession’s songs as they are trying to further enhance the United States as a country.

Way 11: Theoretical Perspectives
After reading and learning about cultural studies and how it applies to literature, I found some ways that it can be applied to “I Hear America Singing.” Cultural studies takes into account the state of the culture, community, and environment the author is involved with when writing the literature. Whitman lived in many different settings during his life, including New York and New Orleans. He also worked in several different professions, including printer, newspaper editor, teacher, office boy, and author. Whitman’s friends were working class people, especially farmers and fisherman. Taking all of this information into account, you can see that the culture of Whitman’s environment had a tremendous effect on the poem. The characters in the poem include a mechanic, mason, shoemaker, wood-cutter, plough-boy, girl, mother, young wife, and several others. These are all representative of Whitman’s friends. The several different locations that Whitman lived throughout his life are represented in the poem by the different industries and businesses in the poem. The different businesses are located in different geographical locations of the United States. All of these examples show how culture affected the writing and meaning behind “I Hear America Singing.”

Way 12: Theoretical Perspectives
Another way to analyze “I Hear America Singing” is by using the concept of deconstructionism. Deconstruction does not have a definition, but Brown and Yarbrough describe it as “the belief that no text can completely be nailed down to one proper reading, interpretation or explanation.” A deconstructionist, for example, would analyze a reading and offer a meaning that they interpret to be different than what the author intended. There are some parts of “I Hear America Singing” that fall into this approach. Whitman wrote the poem to show the working class and their desire and happiness to provide service to the country and its citizens. He also wrote the poem to show how much pride he himself had in the country and how much the characters within the poem shared the same feeling. A deconstructionist will take the approach of finding other meanings besides these. He may say that each character only cares of his own profession and his own particular role within the profession. This would be found because of the quotes “each one singing his- as it should be” and “singing what belongs to her, and to no one else.”

Brown, James S., and Scott D. Yarbrough. A Practical Introduction to Literary Study. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.

Way 13: Overall Review
My 13 Ways of Analyzing Literature project has been quite the learning experience! I have not only learned many different skills that I can use to analyze any piece of literature, but I have learned a lot about the way I tend to approach literature and also have come to deeply appreciate “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman and the complexity of it. Ways 1 and 2 allowed me to make first impressions of the poem and hear an audio clip of someone reading it aloud. I initially thought that the poem was about saluting the workforce of America. Throughout the rest of the ways, I found out that my initial thoughts were correct, but learned of the deeper meanings and thoughts hidden beneath the text. In way 3, I concluded that Whitman uses free verse within the poem, which symbolizes the free thinking of America’s citizens. The fact that the poem is written as one large stanza but has several characters within the stanza shows the unity of the workers to make up America’s working class as a whole. In way 4, I was able to unpack the literature and found that Whitman uses the word “hear” as imagery, “singing” as a metaphor, and “his” as a symbol. In ways 5 and 6 I analyzed the setting and point of view. The setting does not take place in any particular place, which shows that the workplace of America is everywhere. The point of view is first-person, which means that Whitman is the speaker and we see the characters through his eyes. Way 7 helped me to see the ambiguity within the poem. I found one major ambiguity, which is the use of the word “singing.” Way 8 introduced me to the concept of canon. I had never heard of the concept of canon before, so this was a complete learning experience in this part of the project. Whitman uses figurative language and other literary tools to give the poem aesthetic value and has kept the poem widely read and enjoyed for a century and a half. Ways 9 and 10 helped me to evaluate how biographical and historical information help to shape the poem and its meaning. The upbringing of Whitman as well as the cultural events at the time of the poem’s writing is apparent by the working class characters included in the poem and the cultural events are shown by the plough-boy representing the black slaves. Ways 11 and 12 also introduced brand new concepts that I had never known of previous to this project. Analyzing the theoretical perspectives was very interesting and actually quite difficult to do. I used the cultural studies concept and applied it to the poem. This helped me to look at Whitman’s life and experiences and see how this shaped how the poem was written and how the meaning was influenced. Overall, this project has taught me several new concepts to analyze literature and gave me practice using them on one poem. I have gained a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for “I Hear America Singing” and will always read literature in a much more effective and analytical way. This project will help me to appreciate all types and works of literature that I read from now on, because I will have the skills to dig into it and find all of the meaning that lies beneath the surface.