For some reason this poem resonates with me as the current evening news is filled with our country’s inability to resolve our immigration issues. Stopping desperate people from seeking asylum is not the answer. We still need immigrants. They make America strong.
When Whitman, who lived from 1819 to 1892, wrote his poetry the immigrants were primarily from Germany, Ireland, Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. People came here to escape war, famine and because the United States was a land of opportunity. My German and Norwegian ancestors came to America during this time. My parents both told stories of how their parents did not allow them to speak German or Norwegian at home. They were determined to assimilate in their new homeland.
I like to think that the voices Whitman wrote about were the voices of immigrants, singing in different languages, as they created the rich diversity that makes America such a special place.
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.