I Hear America Singing Discussion Questions

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Lessons on poetry can be complicated. You need to guide your students while analyzing the bigger picture in a poem. This lesson includes thought-provoking discussion questions for ''I Hear America Singing.''

Walt Whitman's I Hear America Singing

Walt Whitman was one of the greatest American poets - one can hardly skip him when discussing American literature. For teachers covering Whitman, or even the Transcendental Era (1836-1860), you're likely to share Whitman's I Hear America Singing with your students.

This poem truly epitomizes transcendentalism, which focuses on trying to understand the nature of society by using one's own emotions and experiences. Basically, it was a reaction to the literary realism movement, which focused on logic, reasoning, and intellectual progress. Addressing these differences will help your students answer the following discussion questions about Whitman's famous poem.

Questions about Theme

These first questions center on theme, or the overall message of I Hear America Singing.

  • What is Whitman's message or moral of this ''workers' story''?
  • How does Whitman portray America like a puzzle? Do you agree with this view of America? Why?
  • What do you think is Whitman's definition of achievement (in terms of Americans)?
  • How is the idea of patriotism depicted in this poem?
    • How do you define patriotism?
    • How do you think Whitman defines it?
    • Which specific words or lines in the poem show patriotism? Why?

Questions about Transcendentalism

As mentioned earlier, Whitman wrote during the Transcendental Era in literature, which was also related to the Romantic Era. These questions center on those literary movements.

  • How does ''I Hear America Singing'' represent a transcendental viewpoint as opposed to one based on literary realism?
    • Which lines of the poem express transcendental beliefs? Why?
  • If you were to rewrite this poem from the perspective of realism, how would it change?
    • How would you rewrite specific lines?
  • Whitman's work is a cross between transcendental and romantic literature, which emphasized imagination and emotions.
    • What aspects of I Hear America Singing demonstrate the influence of the Romantic literary movement?
    • Do these same aspects also demonstrate the influence of transcendentalism? Why or why not?

Questions about Poetical Features

Often in poetry, the structure itself is significant in portraying meaning or the poet's purpose. These questions look at the structure and other poetical features that Whitman used in I Hear America Singing.

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