Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
by Walt Whitman
Section 24 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edged waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women generations after me;
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Bully for you! you proud, friendly, free Manhattanese!
- He pulls a classic poetic trick: addressing the things around him, he orders them to do the things they are already doing. He sounds like the conductor of an orchestra: "Strings, louder! Now trumpets! Drums, I need more drums!"
- He summons back all the sights and sounds of the ferryboat, often repeating the same language he has used earlier in the poem, like "scallop-edged waves" and "men and women generations after me."
- Instead of "Manhattan," he uses the Native American word, "Mannahatta" in line 111, emphasizing the legacy and continuity between different peoples.
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
- He describes his own brain as "baffled and curious" and "throbbing," and the scenery around him as a scientific specimen, suspended for all time in a "float of solution."
Blab, blush, lie, steal, you or I or any one after us!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or public assembly!
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my nighest name!
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or actress!
Play the old role, the role that is great or small, according as one makes it!
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking upon you;
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste with the hasting current;
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air;
Receive the summer-sky, you water! and faithfully hold it, till all downcast eyes have time to take it from you;
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any one's head, in the sun-lit water;
Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sailed schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lowered at sunset;
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the houses;
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are;
- One by one, he marches through the major images of the poem. If the poem were a symphony, this section would be called the "recapitulation." It serves to remind the reader of all that came before.
- Whereas before he showed things separately, mixed with his own thoughts and commentary, here he combines them into one big picture.
You necessary film, continue to envelop the Soul;
About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung our divinest aromas;
Thrive, cities! bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and sufficient rivers;
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual;
Keep your places, objects than which none else is more lasting.
- These lines return to some of the poem's philosophical themes: that appearances are an indication of a deeper reality, that things are connected by a "necessary film," that nothing is more spiritual than physical reality, and nothing is more eternal than everyday objects.
- From these lines, one has to wonder with the philosophy of the American Transcendentalists, who believed that there was one big Soul underlying all of nature. Whitman never uses the plural form, "souls," in this poem. He only uses the singular "Soul."