What Literary Terms are Used in ‘I Hear America Singing’ by Walt Whitman?

Literary terms used in I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitmam include rhythm, synecdoche, metaphor, repetition, and imagery.

  1. Rhyme Scheme – There is no rhyme scheme. Whitman is the father of free verse.
  2. Rhythm and Meter– There is no metrical pattern. He does use repetition, however, to create rhythm.
  3. Synecdoche – Of all the “I Hear America Singing” literary terms, none makes its mark more strongly than synecdoche. “America” in line 1 represents individual Americans, more specifically, workers. Each line of the poem is an example of synecdoche (a special type of metaphor where the parts equal the whole or the whole equals the parts). Whitman is celebrating the greatness of America by celebration ,the greatness of its individuals.
  4. Word Choice – “Carols” in line 1 is a connotatively charged word. It is most often associated with holy songs about Christmas. There is no other way to celebrate individuals and the physical body than connecting it with the physical manifestation of God himself.
  5. Metaphor – the sounds and actions of laborers working is compared to music. Note that all the jobs described by Whitman require physical effort.
  6. Repetition – The repetition of “the” in the final seven lines help create rhythm much in the same way the repetition of worker’s actions establish a work rhythm.
  7. The democratic nature of Whitman’s poetry is reflected by his subject matter. He celebrates mechanics, carpenters, masons, mothers–the type of people usually not discussed in poems. For Whitman, it is the individual who matters and the individual freedom that allows him to be great–“Each singing what belongs to her”–that matters.
  8. Theme: Whitman’s poem celebrates the individuals who make America great and the right to individual liberty that makes it possible.

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