Ezra Greenspan: On "I Hear America Singing"

[F]or Whitman, . . . the temptation was strong, even irresistible, to identify himself with the national collective, and his creative expression was often an attempt to devise ways to realize that ambition, whether indirectly, as in "Song of Myself," or directly, as in "I Hear America Singing." In the latter case, Whitman imagined the dynamic power of the nation not as a geographical entity spreading westward but as an activity—and one of his favorite ones, at that: singing. The poem consists of a vision of the various units of the country—the mechanic, the carpenter, the mason, the young wife, the boatman—each person separately "singing" his or her individual song. But where in [the poem] "Pictures" each person acts his or her role separately, this poem blends the individual acts of singing into a harmonious participial ensemble of America singing. The paradox from which the poem works, the empowerment of each element of the country individually but at the same time their merger in the collective empowerment of the nation as a whole, was one that Whitman saw as forming a fault line across American society. I believe, in fact, that the fear of the failure of the individual parts to conjoin as neatly and harmoniously as the seamless whole orchestrated by this poem was one that Whitman knew profoundly even before his development by the mid-1850s into the poet of Leaves of Grass.


Title Ezra Greenspan: On "I Hear America Singing" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Ezra Greenspan Criticism Target Walt Whitman
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 01 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Cambridge Companion to Walt Whitman
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