Thursday

Jul. 4, 2002

I Hear America Singing

by Walt Whitman

THURSDAY, 4 JULY 2002
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Poem: "I Hear America Singing," by Walt Whitman.

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.


It's Independence Day, the day the Continental Congress approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. Fifty years later to the day, on July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson died. Several hours later, his old political enemy John Adams died.

On this day in 1931, James Joyce married Nora Barnacle at the Kensington Registry Office in London. They had been living together for twenty-six years.

On this day in 1855, the first edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass was printed. It consisted of twelve poems and a preface. The printers were friends of his, and they did not charge Whitman for their work. He helped set some of the type himself. "Grass" is a printer's term; it refers to a casual job which can be set up between busy times. He sent a copy to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who praised the poems. "I give you joy of your free and brave thought," Emerson wrote. "I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be."

On this day in 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his cabin on Walden Pond. It was ten feet wide by fifteen feet long, had an attic and a closet, two windows, and a fireplace. It cost twenty-eight dollars and twelve cents to build. The single biggest expenditure was three dollars and ninety cents for nails. Thoreau boasted that he was a good builder, but when the cabin was excavated a hundred years later, the investigators found hundreds of bent nails in the cellar hole. He had two knives and forks, three plates, one cup and one spoon. He had a huge garden, seven miles of bean rows altogether, and he spent a lot of time weeding them and chasing away the woodchucks. He managed to support himself by hiring himself out as a surveyor and a builder. He found he could earn enough money if he worked for about a month-and-a-half out of the year. "I am convinced," he wrote to Horace Greeley, "both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely...It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do."

It's the birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne, born in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He's the author of The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851). He was looking for a job and at last won a well-paid appointment at the Salem Custom House, only to lose it when the Whigs came into power again. He arrived home, told his wife he was out of work, and wondered aloud what to do. "Now you can write your book," she said. He asked what she proposed they live on while he wrote, and she opened a desk drawer and showed him a pile of gold pieces she'd saved out of the household allowance-one hundred and fifty dollars, enough to cover their expenses for several months. He sat down at once and began work on The Scarlet Letter.

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