Walt Whitman: Poems

Walt Whitman: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry


Flood-tide below me! I watch you face to face;

Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to



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;

And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me,

and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.


The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the day;

The simple, compact, well-joined scheme--myself disintegrated, every one

disintegrated, yet part of the scheme;

The similitudes of the past, and those of the future;

The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings--on the

walk in the street, and the passage over the river;

The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away;

The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them;

The certainty of others--the life, love, sight, hearing, of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to shore;

Others will watch the run of the flood-tide;

Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights

of Brooklyn to the south and east;

Others will see the islands large and small;

Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour


A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see


Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back

to the sea of the ebb-tide.

It avails not, neither time nor place--distance avails not;

I am with you--you men and women of a generation, or ever so many

generations hence;

I project myself--also I return--I am with you, and know how it is.

Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;

Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;

Just as you are refreshed by the gladness of the river and the bright flow,

I was refreshed;

Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I

stood, yet was hurried;

Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, and the

thick-stemmed pipes of steamboats, I looked.

I too many and many a time crossed the river, the sun half an hour high;

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.

I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,

Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,

Looked at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape of my head

in the sun-lit water,

Looked on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward,

Looked on the vapour as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,

Looked toward the lower bay to notice the arriving ships,

Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,

Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the ships at anchor,

The sailors at work in the rigging, or out astride the spars.

The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender serpentine


The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their


The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the


The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset,

The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the frolicsome

crests and glistening,

The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the grey walls of the granite

store-houses by the docks,

On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely flanked on each

side by the barges--the hay-boat, the belated lighter,

On the neighbouring 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.

These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to you;

I project myself a moment to tell you--also I return.

I loved well those cities;

I loved well the stately and rapid river;

The men and women I saw were all near to me;

Others the same--others who look back on me because I looked forward to


The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.

What is it, then, between us?

What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?

Whatever it is, it avails not--distance avails not, and place avails not.

I too lived--Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;

I too walked the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters

around it;

I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me;

In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,

In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.

I too had been struck from the float for ever held in solution, I too had

received 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.

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,

The dark threw patches down upon me also;

The best I had done seemed to me blank and suspicious;

My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?

would not people laugh at me?

It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;

I am he who knew what it was to be evil;

I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,

Blabbed, blushed, resented, lied, stole, grudged;

Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak;

Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;

The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me;

The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting;

Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.

But I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud!

I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they

saw me approaching or passing,

Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their

flesh against me as I sat;

Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet

never told them a word;

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


Played the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,

The same old role, the role that is what we make it,--as great as we like,

Or as small as we like, or both great and small.

Closer yet I approach you:

What thought you have of me, I had as much of you--

I laid in my stores in advance;

I considered long and seriously of you before you were born.

Who was to know what should come home to me?

Who knows but I am enjoying this?

Who knows but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see


It is not you alone, nor I alone;

Not a few races, nor a few generations, nor a few centuries;

It is that each came or comes or shall come from its due

emission, without fail, either now or then or henceforth.

Everything indicates--the smallest does, and the largest does;

A necessary film envelops all, and envelops the Soul for a proper time.

Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to me

than my mast-hemmed Manhatta,

My river and sunset, and my scallop-edged waves of flood-tide;

The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the twilight, and

the belated lighter;

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


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.

We understand, then, do we not?

What I promised without mentioning it have you not accepted?

What the study could not teach--what the preaching could not accomplish, is

accomplished, is it not?

What the push of reading could not start, is started by me personally, is

it not?


Flow on river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!

Frolic on, crested and scallop-edged waves!

Gorgeous clouds of the sunset, drench with your splendour me, or the men

and women generations after me!

Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!

Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!-stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!

Bully for you! you proud, friendly, free Manhattanese!

Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!

Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!

Blab, blush, lie, steal, you or I or any one after us!

Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or public


Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my nighest


Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or actress!

Play the old role, the role that is great or small, according as one makes


Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking

upon you:

Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste

with the hasting current;

Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air;

Receive the summer sky, you water! and faithfully hold it, till all

downcast eyes have time to take it from you;

Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any one's

head, in the sun-lit water;

Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sailed schooners,

sloops, lighters!

Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lowered at sunset;

Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at nightfall;

cast red and yellow light over the tops of the houses;

Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are;

You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul;

About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung our divinest aromas;

Thrive, cities! bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and sufficient


Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual!

Keep your places, objects than which none else is more lasting!

We descend upon you and all things--we arrest you all;

We realise the soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids;

Through you colour, form, location, sublimity, ideality;

Through you every proof, comparison, and all the suggestions and

determinations of ourselves.

You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers! you


We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate henceforward;

Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves from us;

We use you, and do not cast you aside--we plant you permanently within us;

We fathom you not--we love you--there is perfection in you also;

You furnish your parts toward eternity;

Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.