Walt Whitman

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What literary devices are used in Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing?"

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The poetic/literary devices (such as tone, imagery, metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole and prefix or suffix) of the poem “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman include:

 Free verse:

This poem is not written according to formal poetry rules; such as end rhyme employed or blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) the structure upon which the poem is built.

Instead, Walt Whitman writes in free verse -  a looser form of poetry, which is not subject to strict meter, rhyme, and stanzas. One example of this stricter, more formal poetry would be a Shakespearean sonnet.

Free verse does not have regular patterns or arrangements of rhyme and meter. Walt Whitman does not use numerous stanzas in this poem either. In fact, the poem is one stanza.


The tone of “I Hear America Singing” is a joyful, positive tone. Walt Whitman is celebrating the everyday life of an average American as he or she goes about his or her daily business and responsibilities. He is showing that happiness, contentment and personal fulfillment are achievable through one being productive and enjoying his daily work. This is what built America. Whitman conveys this thought in this line:

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

Therefore, Whitman is showing the reader his attitude toward everyday working Americans as they contribute to society.


Whitman does use alliteration in the poem. Alliteration involves words that begin with the same consonant sounds. These words are used successively in the same line. An example of alliteration in “I Hear America Singing” is the repeated use of the consonant ‘s’:

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,


There is a touch of hyperbole (or exaggeration) in the poem. Hyperbole, essentially, overstates or overemphasizes something to make a point. In the first line of the poem, Whitman states:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Whitman likens the everyday working lives of average Americans (and their words and actions) to songs, and even carols. He’s exaggerating or overemphasizing a little here to make the point that it is wonderful to see and hear America at work. To him all of this activity is a joyous song, a wonderful carol. Therefore, hyperbole serves to make his point to the reader that what he witnesses before him is something beautiful.

Literal language:

Walt Whitman’s writing in this poem is more everyday plain English and direct.  He means exactly what he is saying and writing. He is not using figurative language in the poem. In addition, in this particular poem, he does not employ metaphors.

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In the poem “I hear America singing,” Whitman celebrates American democracy. In one of his famous catalogues, Whitman lists a variety of disparate individuals. Whitman’s speaker, the famous Whitmanian “I”, hears a mechanic, a carpenter, a mason, a boatman, a shoemaker, a wood-cutter, a mother, a sewing girl, and a group of male comrades. Characteristically, Whitman’s “I” is not confined by temporality but traverses space and time to hear all of these different singers. The image of these various singers rests on their songs, which are melodious and powerful. Whitman does not name these songs but, when placed in the larger context of Leaves of Grass, we can determine that these singers sing of American democracy.

Notice also that the singers are of the working class. These singers are laborers and Whitman’s “I” is one of them – he is “one of the roughs.” These laborers celebrate the place of the working class in American democracy.

At the end of the poem, Whitman celebrates male adhesiveness. (Adhesiveness was the way to discuss the love between men in the nineteenth-century.) This theme is important to Whitman’s poetic and comes to fruition in the “Calamus” cluster of Leaves of Grass. The poem ends with the image of these young men: “the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, / Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.”

Like most of Whitman’s poetry, “I hear America singing” does not contain figurative language (hyperbole, simile, metaphor). Rather, Whitman relies on colloquial language – his “barbaric yawp” – to convey meaning. Whitman departs from English poetry by using a conversational and informal tone.

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The tone of the poem 'I Hear America Singing' by Walt Whitman is jubilant and happy. The poem is an expression of celebration of all that he sees that is good about America. He praises the work ethic and the level playing field of opportunity where everyone can dream of success and get it if only they would work for it. He praises the harmony of calm caring family life in exultant tones - saving particular admiration for the sweetness of the mother singing to her baby.

The whole element of singing is a metaphor for co-operation,trust and loyalty - the joint success that can be bred when like minds of decent folk all pull together. Whitman sees America as a land where the idea of physical work is not looked down upon but appreciated - each for its artisan craft.Whitman was a working man himself:

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