Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
by Walt Whitman
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Apostrophe: "You"

Symbol Analysis

Apostrophe is when a writer addresses someone or something that cannot respond. If we listed all the examples of apostrophe in this poem, we'd have to put down most of its lines. He starts out talking to the water and the sky, but by the end he seems to be talking to "all things," that is, the entire world, past and future. He spends a lot of the poem talking to us, the readers, including some delightful bits where he says he's watching us. There's not a lot of privacy in a Whitman poem.

  • Lines 1-2: The speaker looks down then up, addressing the flood-tide below him and then the clouds and sky above. He personifies both earth and sky as having a "face."
  • Lines 21-22: He shifts from addressing the fellow passengers on the boat to addressing future passengers and future generations.
  • Line 23: The speaker begins a series of lines that all begin with the same phrase "Just as." This rhetorical device is called "anaphora."
  • Line 51: This line is repeated a couple of times in the poem. It functions as a refrain to remind the reader that he is moving between the present and the future.
  • Lines 57-59: These lines are the climax of the first half of the poem. The speaker says that time and distance aren't going to keep him from us.
  • Line 89: Is it possible for a person to personify himself? That's what we think is going on here, where the speaker suddenly talks about himself as if he were a physical presence that is with us as we read. He's a body that can approach us "closer." Closer, even, than we might like.
  • Line 90: The speaker uses the metaphor of a farmer saving stores of his crops for the future to describe the way he has saved up thoughts of us.
  • Lines 106-109: He asks a series of rhetorical questions in order to suggest that the act of reading the poem has changed us in ways that other forms of education could not.
  • Lines 110-136: These lines begin a long list of imperatives, or orders, that the speaker delivers to the scene surrounding him. These orders amount to, "Do whatever it is you're doing!"
  • Lines 139-147: In these lines, the speaker is addressing not just the things around him, but "all things," or, if you want to get scientific about it, all the "solids and fluids" of the universe.