Today is the birthday of Walt Whitman (1819-1892), a free spirit easy acknowledged as the most extraordinary poet in our history. His life bridged the American experience from the early Romantic period in literature to the advent of hard realism as the end of the century approached. I'm not sure what presence he has these days in the public school systems across the country but the baby boomers - born between 1946 and 1964 - had a full dose of his poetry beginning in elementary school. For more information on Whitman, including an extensive biography, visit the outstanding resources at the Walt Whitman Archive.
|Whitman in 1887|
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.
Much of Whitman's poetry has been set to music. Sometimes the blend of music and existing poetry has limited success and authors often do no think favorably of such adaptations. I think Whitman would have approved especially with the music coming from fellow a impressionist, in this case Frederick Delius. This composition has been a personal favorite for forty years.
Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo, George Collins Cox, restored by Adam Cuerden, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division