The tide is the first thing that the speaker addresses "face to face" in the poem. The ebb and flow of the tides – and their currents – represent continuity. Whitman thinks that human generations show a similar continuity. The movement of the tides also parallels the speaker's movement back and forth in time, when he projects himself in the future and returns again. Finally, you could read a tide-like pattern into the structure of the poem, where the same images and phrases come and go and come again.
- Line 1: There's a pun in these lines. The speaker is staring into the water and talking into the incoming tide, which he personifies as having a face. But he's also likely staring at the reflection of his own face in the water.
- Line 10: The speaker describes the fast-moving current. He personifies it as "swimming."
- Line 14: As it passes by the ferryboat, the flood-time seems to be running away from the speaker.
- Line 19: The tides are "pouring in" with the flood and "falling back" with the ebb.
- Line 25: The East River is personified as "glad," as its waters are lit up by the setting sun.
- Line 110: Like a conductor or the leader of a military march, the speaker orders the tide to keep on what it has been doing for millions of years: ebb and flow, ebb and flow…Hey, it's the little battles that count.