Study Guide

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

By Walt Whitman

Part Three

Lines 36-38

You oceans both, I close with you,
We murmur alike reproachfully rolling sands and drift, knowing not why,
These little shreds indeed standing for you and me and all.

  • Part one featured the poet side of the speaker, and part two focused on the side of him that never gets revealed.
  • He refers to both of those sides as "oceans."
  • In part three, now, the speaker has these two "oceans" combining.
  • And what happens when two bodies of salt water combine? You can't tell where one begins and the other ends. They become the same body of water.
  • That's right, the speaker uses the ocean as a metaphor for self.
  • Like the ocean, the speaker is made up of many different bodies of water that converge into one big body of water.
  • In his case, both the selves drift on the water, and they don't know why.
  • None of us do, actually, says the speaker. We are all in this life together, and we don't know the reason.
  • It's worth noticing that this is the first part of the poem that hasn't opened with anaphora.
  • Another difference? The section is broken into tercets, or stanzas with three lines.
  • Perhaps Whitman wanted this section, which represents a departure from the first two, to stand out.

Lines 39-41

You friable shore with trails of debris,
You fish-shaped island, I take what is underfoot,
What is yours is mine my father.

  • Though maybe this unity isn't as ideal as it seems in previous lines.
  • He calls the shore "friable," which means easily crumbled. Plus, it's covered with debris.
  • If the ocean represents the self, then what does the shore represent?
  • It seems to be a metaphor for the path the speaker takes through life.
  • It's definitely "underfoot," which means he's walking.
  • And then he addresses his "father" and says that everything belonging to his father belongs to him, too. So Nature is both mother, as we saw in part one, and father. It's everything.
  • And because the speaker is part of everything, it all belongs to him—or so he says, at least.
  • In true Transcendental fashion, our real identities are only discoverable if we embrace nature.

Lines 42-45

I too Paumanok,
I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, and been wash'd on your shores,
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped island.

  • The speaker is, therefore, part of his home. And he's also part of the water that surrounds it, that leaves "drift and debris" (alliteration alert) on the sand.
  • He even sees himself in the "little wrecks" on the shore.
  • He's grown up on the island, walked all over, and left his marks, just like the sea does on the shore.

Lines 46-48

I throw myself upon your breast my father,
I cling to you so that you cannot unloose me,
I hold you so firm till you answer me something.

  • Nature is both the speaker and the speaker's father—again we get the concept of unity.
  • It seems like nature is trying to cast him away, but the speaker holds on tight. Why?|
  • Because he has a question for nature, and thus…for himself.

Lines 49-51

Kiss me my father,
Touch me with your lips as I touch those I love,
Breathe to me while I hold you close the secret of the murmuring I envy.

  • Again, he asks the "father" for attention. Still, we know he means nature, here, which is both his father and his mother.
  • At the same time, "father" is also used in the Christian tradition to refer to God, so it's possible that he means it in that context, too.
  • In any case, the speaker asks for the ocean to touch him with its "lips," which is another metaphor for the tide.
  • As his feet stand in the sand, the tide kisses him. And the "breath" of his father is the smell of the sea air, which murmurs secrets to him.
  • In nature is where the speaker learns the truth about his existence.