Study Guide

I Hear America Singing Quotes

  • Work

    I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
    Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, (1-2)

    The speaker of the poem begins by telling us that he hears "America" singing. He collectivizes all of the "varied carols" into one singular voice of America, even as he goes on to list all of the different workers (starting with the mechanics).

    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 deck-hand 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, (3-7)

    Walt loved himself a good list, and here's one of his most well-known ones. In these lines, the speaker catalogues many of the different types of workers in America, all doing their own thing. There's a sense of ownership that the workers have in these lines; check out how many times Whitman uses the word "his" to refer both to the workers' songs and to their hard labor.

    The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, (8)

    It's not just men who work hard in America; in these lines, Whitman valorizes the work of women, too. This may not be a bit deal in the twenty-first century, but back in the nineteenth, it was pretty progressive for Whitman to acknowledge the work of women right alongside the work of men. Walt Whitman: our favorite nineteenth-century proto-feminist.

    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. (9-11)

    Again, the speaker acknowledges the sense of ownership that workers have both over their labor and songs; the worker sings "what belongs to him or her and to no one else." And the end of the poem gives us a little glimpse into what happens after the work day is over: it's party time (and time for more singing, obvs).

  • Visions of America

    I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, (1)

    The speaker begins the poem with a bold declaration: "I hear America singing." And what is America singing? Varied carols. While the speaker will go on to list all of the workers and the different jobs that they do, in this opening line, he lumps all of the workers in together as one "America." Whitman's vision of America acknowledge both individuality and the power of Americans as a collective force. (BOOM.)

    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 deck-hand 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, (2-8)

    In these lines, the speaker describes the working Americans separately; there are tons of people doing tons of jobs in this poem. But what unites them all is that they are singing as they work. They each sing their own song, but the very fact of their singing unites them in the speaker's mind.

    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. (9-11)

    All work and no play makes America a dull boy (or girl). In these final lines of the poem, the speaker gives us a little glimpse into what happens in the off-hours. It turns out that the workers know how to have some fun too. And what's that fun made up of? Why, that would be singing, of course.

  • Art and Culture: Music

    I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, (1)

    The poem sets out the theme of music really clearly in this opening line, which tells us that the speaker hears America singing "varied carols." We've got one America, lots of songs, and a nice straightforward opening to a poem. Thanks, double W.

    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
         deck-hand 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, (2-9)

    These eight long lines catalogue all of the different kinds of singers in America. And, surprise, all of the singers are laborers (and not, for example, opera singers or choristers in church). These singers are hardworking gals and guys, just like us, who have pride in their work and in their songs. They each sing "what belongs to him or her and to none else." Music in this poem is both an expression of individuality, and a force that brings folks together.

    The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
    Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs. (10-11)

    Singing's not just something to do while working; the poem ends by telling us that these crazy kids sing while partying, too. (Karaoke, anyone?) In the vision of America that this poem creates, music is central to nineteenth-century life.