Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
How we cite our quotes:
It avails not, neither time or place – instance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
I project myself – also I return – I am with you, and know how it is. (lines 20-22)
You could imagine the speaker as a character in a bad soap opera (the best kind) declaring to his lover, "Nothing can keep us apart!" Time and distance are not obstacles for him. Through good times and bad, he's with us and can relate to life's joys and defeats. He "knows how it is." Does this idea have serious implications, or is it just heart-warming fluff?
These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to you,
I project myself a moment to tell you – also I return. (lines 50-51)
Whitman's idea of friendship is built on shared experience: camaraderie. In this poem, the way he creates this mutual experience is by telling us about his experiences and then pretending that we did the same thing.
What is it, then, between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
Whatever it is, it avails not – distance avails not, and place avails not. (lines 57-59)
Again with the "nothing can keep us apart" business. But, seriously, this poem was written close to the beginning of the Civil War, and the ability to break down the walls "between" people seemed like an urgent project. Incidentally, we're in good company as "imaginary friends" of Whitman: he had the same relationship with President Abraham Lincoln, in that the two men both hugely admired each other but never actually met.