Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refreshed by the gladness of the river, and the bright flow, I was refreshed,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood, yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, and the thick-stemmed pipes of steamboats, I looked.
- At this point, it sounds like he's talking directly to us, the readers. And not just us as fictional readers; it's like he's reaching off the page to grab us by the collar. "I'm just like you!" he says, shaking us back and forth.
- All those spiritual experiences that you think nobody else understands – he's been through it. The exhilaration of being in a crowd, the thought of being carried away by rushing water, the amazement at a port full of boats: he knows the feeling.
- Whitman is battling against the experience of "alienation," which is a fancy word to describe the way people feel disconnected and isolated from one another, even when they are going through the same thing.
- Whitman thinks that alienation is a bad thing. A very bad thing. Did we mention that this poem was first published near the start of the Civil War?