Study Guide

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Awe and Amazement

By Walt Whitman

Awe and Amazement

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose, (lines 3-4)

The speaker is the kind of person who can be entertained by anything. Give him something shiny and he'll be good to go for hours. Here he marvels at the people on the boat, even though they are just normal commuters in "the usual costumes." He's like, "You wouldn't think I'd find this so curious, but I do!"

The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings – on the walk in the street, and the passage over the river, (line 9)

The speaker is a kid in a candy shop, except his candy shop is all of New York City. Everything is glorious to him. He compares the various sights and sounds from the ferry to beads on a necklace.

I watched the Twelfth Month sea-gulls – I saw them high in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and left the rest in strong shadow,
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the south. (lines 29-31)

Of all the things he admires in the poem, the sea-gulls deserve special mention. A lot of times he just lists things that he thinks are great, but here he goes into fine detail, describing how the light reflects of their bodies and how they hover in circles. Why do you think these average birds – which many people find to be an annoyance – are so important to him?

On the neighboring shore, the fires from the foundry chimneys burning high and glaringly into the night,
Casting, their flicker of black, contrasted with wild red and yellow light, over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of streets. (lines 48-49)

The description of the foundries, where metal is produced, is another example of close detail in the poem. Whitman likes to focus particular attention on images that combine light and darkness. The "red and yellow" fires of the foundry contrast with the smoky black of the chimney-smoke that moves down through the streets. We can tell you one thing: we wouldn't want to live next to those foundries. Cough, cough.

Curious what Gods can exceed these that clasp me by the hand, and with voices I love call me promptly and loudly by my nighest name as I approach,
Curious what is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in my face,
Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you. (lines 103-105)

The word "curious" appears several times in the poem, and it seems to combine the sense of mystery with the sense of awe or amazement. The sights and sounds of the ferry ride are compared favorably to the "Gods." Whereas religion offers hope for the future to compensate for the problems of the present, the speaker doesn't think it can get any better than the present.

We descend upon you and all things – we arrest you all,
We realize the Soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids, (lines 137-138)

The speaker wants to capture or "arrest" the word of things like Harry Potter casting a spell to freeze time. The importance of physical things – those "faithful solids and fluids" – is that they contribute to the formation of the Soul. Thus, if the speaker is amazed by the outside world, it follows that he is no less amazed by the Soul.

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