New Piece: I Hear America Singing

The charm of Walt Whitman’s poems happens to also be it’s challenge.  His trademark free-verse style is very difficult to set to music.  Although you can’t resist the rugged, rustic sentiment of one of his most famous poems, “I Hear America Singing.”

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

-Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

The ecstatic buoyancy, free of all inhibitions, is really infectious.  It can’t be understated, however, that this is really difficult to put to music.  As brilliant as it is, I don’t know how people look to Whitman for poetry so often.


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