“The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case,
He turns his quid of tobacco, his eyes get blurred with the manuscript;” (39)

In this context, jour is used as “a colloquial abbreviation of journeyman” (Wordnik). A journeyman can be described as “one who has fully served an apprenticeship in a trade or craft and is a qualified worker in another’s employ,” thus able to earn “a full day’s pay for his work” (Wordnik).

At first I had assumed that the use of “jour” in the line I selected from “Song of Myself” referred simply to the French word for “day,” perhaps signifying a printer of a daily publication. But the discovery that its use is more likely an abbreviation for “journeyman” is interesting, as Whitman himself “worked as a journeyman printer for several New York newspapers, before ultimately becoming a journalist and editor in his own right” (Lehigh University).

The inclusion of this subtle self-image in one of the many visual catalogues in this poem resonates with his egalitarian assertions, that he is the everyman, the same as the carpenter, children, pilot, and deacons described on the same page.

The image above is sourced from Discovery Press, which offers additional insight into Whitman’s own career as a journeyman printer. “It was common for a journeyman printer to be called to temporary duty as a newswriter or reporter,” which often led to a growing career editing, publishing, and journalism, as was also the case with Whitman’s contemporary, Samuel Clemens.

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