“This Land Is Your Land”: A Note on America as a Nation of “Varied Carols”


  • Heinrich Detering




American song poetry, patriotism, Woody Guthrie


Modern American literature starts with the sound of voices singing: “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear”. It is Walt Whitman who begins one of his most popular poems with this line, referring to the voices of people from all generations, classes and ethnic backgrounds who are about to form a new type of nation, a nation beyond ethnicity based on the principles of democracy and diversity alone. Against this background of listening to the countless different voices, his equally famous poem ‘America’ reads like a personal and individual answer: “Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, / All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old, / Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich”. Whitman’s poetry lays out the foundation for a specifically American tradition of song poetry that focuses on political equality and social justice as collective human rights and the free development of every person’s individuality at the same time. The present article follow the line from Whitman’s poetry of songs to 20th century American song poetry, by the way of the example of Woody Guthrie’s anthem ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and its transformative receptions in Bob Dylan’s and Bruce Springsteen’s adaptations (in contrast to the way in which European national anthems conceive the nation-as-territory).


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