Study Guide

As I Ebb'd With the Ocean of Life Part Four

By Walt Whitman

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Part Four

Lines 52-55

Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return,)
Cease not your moaning you fierce old mother,
Endlessly cry for your castaways, but fear not, deny not me,
Rustle not up so hoarse and angry against my feet as I touch you or gather from you.

  • Here, in parentheses, the speaker lets us know that he has come to terms with the big questions of his existence. But how?
  • Well, he realizes that the tide will always return.
  • Say what?
  • That is, the speaker understands that hope is like the ocean: it ebbs (goes away) and flows (comes back).
  • Sometimes, the mothers of the world will cry for their lost children. The speaker says that this is okay. He doesn't want them to stop.
  • But, he says, they should also not be afraid or deny that hope is also present. Like the ocean, life gives and takes away.
  • If it is currently taking away, soon it will return and give back—just like the tides.
  • That's some more stellar figurative language for ya.

Lines 56-57

I mean tenderly by you and all,
I gather for myself and for this phantom looking down where we lead, and following me and mine.

  • The speaker feels tenderness for everyone and everything (aww).
  • He gathers this tenderness for himself and for the "phantom" watching him, and everyone, from above.
  • This phantom sure sounds like some type of god, right? The speaker never gets specific, but it's safe to say he intends us to picture a deity above, one who watches us.
  • It's not the first instance in the poem (if you count mentions of "father," which is commonly used in Christianity to refer to God) where anything spiritual besides nature has been mentioned.
  • It is, however, the first time he's situated this deity above the earth, rather than part of it.

Lines 58-61

Me and mine, loose windrows, little corpses,
Froth, snowy white, and bubbles,
(See, from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last,
See, the prismatic colors glistening and rolling,)

  • He claims as his own the land (a "windrow" is just a line of hay or other material that's been laid out to dry in the wind) and also the corpses that lie underneath his feet (okay...).
  • To the speaker, these are all parts of nature, and thus part of himself.
  • The image of the froth on the sea bubbles might be intended to make the reader imagine someone breathing, or even drowning.
  • The speaker's mentioned those drowned at sea several times, so it's not too much of a stretch to assume he wants us to think of them here, too.
  • But this time, the speaker counts himself among those who have drowned.
  • That doesn't mean this is another grim stanza, though. He calls the colors "prismatic" as they glisten and roll. It's some beautiful imagery, actually.
  • And judging by the tone of this section, we can guess that the speaker isn't feeling too negative about death.
  • After all, it's just another part of life.

Lines 62-65

Tufts of straw, sands, fragments,
Buoy'd hither from many moods, one contradicting another,
From the storm, the long calm, the darkness, the swell,
Musing, pondering, a breath, a briny tear, a dab of liquid or soil,

  • The speaker personifies nature again. Here, he has nature throwing around straw and other debris.
  • Nature does this according to whatever mood it's in, apparently. Sometimes, it storms according to a specific mood. And sometimes it's calm.
  • It sounds like the speaker thinks nature is pretty volatile.
  • But remember, the speaker counts himself as part of nature. Is he giving us a clue into his own emotional state?

Lines 66-69

Up just as much out of fathomless workings fermented and thrown,
A limp blossom or two, torn, just as much over waves floating, drifted at random,
Just as much for us that sobbing dirge of Nature,
Just as much whence we come that blare of the cloud-trumpets,

  • While he might not know exactly what happens under his feet, he knows that nature has "workings" operating in the soil.
  • These workings throw up flowers, just as the workings of the sea throw up waves.
  • It seems random, he says, but it's all part of nature's design. Here again he alludes to nature as a kind of deity.
  • He says nature has a plan, even if we don't understand how it works or what it might be.
  • Nature has a plan for us, too—whether it's a sad one that could be accompanied by a funeral dirge, or one that could be accompanied by a triumphant blare of trumpets from the sky.

Lines 70-72

We, capricious, brought hither we know not whence, spread out before you,
You up there walking or sitting,
Whoever you are, we too lie in drifts at your feet.

  • He addresses whoever watches us from above. We are down here, he says, and we don't know why or where we came from.
  • All we know is that we "drift" at the deity's feet, like waves drift over his feet while he walks on the shore.
  • In these final lines, he fully joins himself with the sea, and joins us with it too.
  • He also makes a separation between the deity or creator, and those of us whom the deity has created.

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