Not for You
Last Oppressed Minority
Problem with Poets
Planning My Death I
Planning My Death II
Mormon America I
Mormon America II
Mormon America III
As For Love I
As For Love II
Rockwell in Silverton
MLK Jr. Day
Dreaming America I
Dreaming America II
Million $ Baby
For Will, My Son
Robinson at Giverny
Paula D'Arcy I
Paula D'Arcy II
Real Screwup I
Real Screwup II
Spelling Bees II
Spelling Bees III
Death Penalty Today I
Death Penalty II
Death Penalty III
I Hear America Studying
Bill Long 3/1/05
The literary progenitor for this essay is, of course, Walt Whitman's pre-Civil War poem "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear." Whitman's poem is filled with heartfelt gusto and optimism, a sense that America's humming energy is creating a product of utility, creativity, nurture and even destiny. Let me reproduce his poem here, so you can see its vibrant energy.
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,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
There are two thoughts I would like to connect to this poem before I give my own poem. The first relates to why I was thinking about this poem. Last weekend I remember driving around Phoenix and seeing cars everywhere during the day, evening and all the time. I asked a friend, "Why aren't these people studying?" She looked at me with a kind of "You've got to be kidding, Bill," type of look, and told me that Americans don't study; they watch reality TV, acquire goods, work hard, and generally look at every moment of free time as a chance to "have fun." I don't know if I believe her, but it made me think of what an America studying would look like.
The second thought emerges from my reality as a single man in his early 50s, who is, for the first time, checking out the "dating scene." I read all kinds of profiles of women when I have a chance, and the characteristic they seem to like least in a man is sarcasm. Perhaps it is just a function of the places where I look, but my distinct impression is that women want a man who is as upbeat as they are about life, one who is fun-loving, active, positive-minded and considerate. Not a lot to ask for, I suppose.
Combining the two ideas with Whitman's poem yields the brief poem below. I think I will let my cycnicism/sarcasm out of the bag for a moment, even though this will further diminish my already negligible social life. And, I will imagine what America would look like if it studied. I have spent my life studying, and it has led to this web page, but America may indeed be correct after all that there is little value in studying...What do you think?
I HEAR AMERICA STUDYING
I hear America studying; its varied sounds I hear.
The office worker at the desk, before beginning the day, lost
in a reverie of memorization. Maybe it was Othello this morning:
'Her father loved me, oft invited me,/Still questioned me the story of my life/ From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,/ That I have passed./ I ran it through even from my boyish....'
The housewife after packing the kids off for school, jealously stealing a moment of biblical mastery, working through the tenor of the Elihu speeches in the Book of Job.
The professor deciding that it is time she actually learned something and not just told people that education is "learning how to learn."
The young person taking 30 minutes out of the day to retreat to Starbucks with some kind of grande or double tall or mucho big latte to study vocabulary, to comb the roots of words, to say, 'I will speak better and more clearly, I will master this language.'
The older person saying, 'I will learn Latin' before I die, and saying 'amo, amas, amat' even as they hope that such a reality enters into their lives.
The whole chorus of young and old, of rich and poor, of black, white and brown, deciding to master 10 dates of important world events in history per day, until they can speak with confidence about each recorded century of human experience.
This is my America. America the Beautiful. America which not only is obsessed with what its kids know but is equally concerned with what it has mastered. Let's sing the chorus of what America would sound like if it was America studying. Ok. Let's all hit the first note. Come on you can do it.
And (as John Bunyan says) I awoke, and behold, it was a dream.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long