Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
by Walt Whitman
Spirituality and the Soul
We're not sure whether to call this imagery "spiritual" and "religious" – Whitman is caught in the netherworld between the two. He clearly does not have much taste for traditional, organized Christianity, as he makes clear with the many subtle digs he takes at religion. But he also borrows the language and themes of religious spirituality, particularly with regard to the individual communion with the divine known as mysticism. The principle message of the poem, repeated again and again, is that all material things large and small contribute to some larger spiritual reality.
- Line 7: We think there's an implicit metaphor to building or construction in the phrase, "simple, compact, well-joined scheme," which is meant to describe the unity of the view from the boat and of reality in general. The whole world is like a really well-made birdhouse…or something like that.
- Line 9: The amazing sights and sounds of the ferry ride are called "glories" and compared to beads on a necklace, using simile.
- Line 65: For the speaker, the time he spends on the ferryboat feels eternal. He captures in this feeling in a metaphor comparing the scene to a scientific specimen preserved "in solution."
- Line 99: A "film" is a thin layer of something, like grease on a pan. The "necessary film" is a complicated symbol for the mysterious connection between all things in the world. It coats everything.
- Line 138: Material things are broken down scientifically into solids and fluids. These are personified as "faithful."
- Line 141: Using metaphor, he compares material things to religious "ministers" and "novices." A minister is a leader of a religious group, while a novice is someone who wants to enter the group. In other words, these things are both teacher and student.
- Line 144: These lines contain an implicit metaphor in which the things of the world are described as seeds that "we plant…within us."