On Walt Whitman\'s Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry

One and the Same

Walt Whitman asks himself and the reader of the poem, "Crossing
Brooklyn Ferry," what significance a person\'s life holds in the
scope of densely populated planet. The poem explores the
difficulties of discovering the relevance of life. The methods
that helped Whitman grasp his own idea of the importance of life
are defined with some simple yet insightful and convincing
observations. By living under and for the standards of others,
a person can never live a fulfilling life. Distinguishing
oneself from the mobs of society can be next to impossible when
every other human is competing for the same recognition with
their own similar accomplishments. The suggestion that Whitman
offers as a means of becoming distinguished, or obtaining an
identity, is to live a life of self-satisfaction. The
persuasive devices in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" successfully
communicate Whitman\'s own theory of breaking the molds of
society by living as a self-satisfying individual.

What makes one person\'s life different from the next? Whitman
leaves the apprehension that the distinguishing characteristics
are few. Whitman informs the audience that he has lead the same
life as they, who lead the same life as their children will and
their ancestors did. The poet questions the significance of a
person\'s achievements by asking, "My great thoughts as I
supposed them, were they not in reality meagre [sic]?" It would
be hard for any person to measure their self-accomplishments on
the planetary scale which Whitman is speaking of. The second
verse of the poem introduces the metaphor of the world being a
"simple, compact, well-joined scheme" with the people dissolved
into the "eternal float of solution." Like the
mechanical"scheme" that Whitman refers to, much of the poem
consists of topics that possess a repetitive or mechanical
quality. Sunrises, sunsets, tides, seasons, circling birds, the
daily New York commute on the Brooklyn Ferry, and the cycling of
generations are woven into the poem. A substantial amount of
stanzas in the poem all begin with the same word. The
continuous use of repetitive imagery conveys the feeling that
our existence is in fact part of an infinitely moving machine
that has no purpose or destination. By using these devices,
Whitman shakes his audience with the convincing notion that life
as it is normally perceived is not important. To assist these
devices, lines that bring sudden tension into the poem further
disturb the preconceptions of the audience: "Closer yet I
approach you,/What thought you have of me now..." Whitman now
has the readers of his poem in a vulnerable state - where their
minds can be easily swayed and he can preach his theory.

Towards the middle of the poem, Whitman enters a passage that
speaks of the "dark patches" that fall upon all people. The
evil traits of guile, anger, lust, greed, cowardice, and hate
that he, like all people, possess. These evils cause him to
live a solitary existence where he did not interact with even
the things that he loved.

Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly,
yet never I told them a word,

Lived the same life as the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing,

Following his comments about the bad parts of his life, he goes
on to tell about what he enjoyed in his life. The things that
gave him pleasure were in fact the sensory pleasures. What he
saw in the world, the voices and sounds of the people, the
accomplishments that he felt, and memories that he made were his
justifications for living. Living his life to the fullest and
cherishing the things that he did for himself gave him an

There is a key difference between living a meaningless life and
a leading a rewarding life with a purpose. In the first case,
the goal in life is to work hard to be accepted by the standards
of others. As a result, a life will most likely wasted on work
that gives no meaning or reward to the person. In the second
case, a person can live for their own standards and behave in a
way that is enjoyable to themselves.

I too had receiv\'d identity by my body,

That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I
should be of my body. . . .

About my body for me, and your body for you. . .

The interiority as Whitman describes, guarantees that an
individual can find meaning in life without comparing themselves
against others and bringing out the evil and deceitful qualities
of humans. In an ideal model of Whitman\'s social behavior,
everyone would be