Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Flood-tide below me! I watch you, face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.
- From his vantage point on the ferry, the speaker addresses the water that is rushing by below him. The tide is coming in, so it's a "flood-tide."
- Summoning his best Robert De Niro, he looks at the water and says, "You! Yeah, you!" – (makes the "I'm watching you" motion with his fingers) – "That's right. I'm watching you!"
- The water is personified with a "face," as are the "clouds" and the "sun" that he sees reflected there.
- It's a half an hour from sunset, and the sun sets in the west, which is why he notices the "clouds of the west."
- As you'll discover in this poem, Whitman is a very confrontational poet, though not in an aggressive way. He's all about eye contact. As they say on Seinfeld, he's a "close talker."