Examples of Alliteration in "I Hear America Singing"
Alliteration is a writing technique that relies on how words sound in relation to each other. Literary scholars identify two strategies for achieving alliteration: repeating a consonant sound in close proximity to other consonant sounds or beginning several words with the same vowel sound. In poetry, alliteration is used to create rhythm and musical effect. Nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman used alliteration in his poem "I Hear America Singing," which appears in his 1855 volume "Leaves of Grass," to convey the poet's belief that music had the power to unify and uplift the nation.
Although the poem features no end rhyme, a sense of melody is evident from the use of repetition and line length. Line One presents the poem's major metaphor: Americans from all walks of life are participating, orchestra-like, in a great symphony of democracy. The speaker discusses the "singing" of mechanics, a carpenter, a mason and other workers. He wraps with the inclusion of female voices, specifically a mother whose voice sounds "delicious."
Within the poem's 11 lines, the word "singing" appears 11 times. The word is employed figuratively to reflect the joy and pride the various tradesmen and women take in their labor. The article "The" begins seven of the 11 lines, which establishes a pattern that can be heard when the poem is spoken. Lines Four and Five achieve a pleasing melody through alliteration, specifically the "m" of mason and makes and the "b" of boatman, belongs and boat. The repetition of the "-ing" sound of singing, sewing and washing helps to establish a sense of activities that, although performed individually, are harmonious.
The phrase "I hear" is repeated twice in the poem's first line, emphasizing both the speaker's active engagement with the harmony and the loud nature of the sounds. The phrase "strong melodious songs" in the last line provides a concluding rhyme that feels robust on the tongue in the way it repeats the "-ong" sound. The phrase "The day what belongs to the day" in Line 13 features a musical repetition and is self-contained and unified in exactly the same way as what it suggests about the day as a separate sphere from the evening.
Precise Word Choices
The word choice "carol" is an intentional one, evoking the holy music associated with Christmas. It serves to quickly establish the blessed nature of the work performed by these men and women. Line 10's description of the mother's singing as "delicious" is also an example of an intentional word choice; it conveys the sensory nature of her song and evokes her tender touch and voice as well as her loving cooking and mending. The phrase "open mouths" in the last line suggests democracy, cooperation and clear communication.
Susie Zappia teaches humanities and research and writing courses online for several colleges. Her research interests include counterculture literature of the 1960 and instructional design for online courses and she enjoys writing about literature, art and instructional design. She holds a Master of Arts in humanities from California State University, Dominguez Hills and a Master of Science in instructional design from Capella University.