The poetry of Walt Whitman is bold, adventurous, generous, and optimistic. It is free-form, lacking formal rhyme schemes and traditional patterns. How do these qualities typify the average...

The poetry of Walt Whitman is bold, adventurous, generous, and optimistic. It is free-form, lacking formal rhyme schemes and traditional patterns. How do these qualities typify the average American? What lines from the poems target the average American?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The relative youth of America and its status as a nation of immigrants relates well to the qualities mentioned. The challenges faced by immigrants to this country certainly embody boldness, adventurousness and optimism. Although the land was inhabited by Native Americans and there were a number of explorers who traveled here, we tend to mark the founding of the nation from the time the Pilgrims arrived from England, seeking a place where they could practice their religion freely. The determination and logistic arrangements required to make the journey, not to mention the difficulties faced upon arrival (harsh climate, building settlements, making a living, illness, hunger, etc.), underscore the need for boldness, adventurousness and optimism that characterized these early settlers. Generosity was also important, as there were lean times during which neighbors had to depend upon one another to share what resources they had, such as tools, food or livestock.

One poem of Whitman's that seems aimed at the average American is the aptly-titled "I Hear America Singing," which celebrates the diversity of occupations found in the United States in the 19th century. It begins, "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear," and then describes specific occupations and activities. The act of singing is metaphorical and multi-layered: it denotes the sounds accompanying the different types of work described, as well as the cacophony of languages spoken by diverse cultures.

The song also suggests a strong sense of pride and the expression of identity: the identity of being Americans, all united by a desire for a life made valuable by work and achievement. The sense of pride in making things is seen as something to celebrate.

The poem's lines also observe the rhythms of the workday, for example: "The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work," or "the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown," and so on. These images describe the unity and commonality of the average American during this time in history, and the values of hard work and pride in workmanship common to all. To use the time of day to structure the poem emphasizes the idea that most Americans were engaged in the same kind of daily rhythms of work in the workplace or the home, all united in the common goals of improving their lives and homes and providing for their families.