Walt Whitman. 1819–1892
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 face.
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
to me than you suppose;
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and
my meditations, than you might
The impalpable sustenance of me
from all things, at all hours of the day;
The simple, compact, well-join’d 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
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
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 or
place—distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations
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 refresh’d by the gladness of the
river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d;
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-stem’d pipes of steamboats,
I too many and many a time cross’d 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,
Look’d at the fine centrifugal spokes of light
around the shape of my head in the sun-lit water,
Look’d on the haze on the hills southward and
Look’d on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged
Look’d toward the lower bay to notice the arriving
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 pilot-houses,
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the wheels,
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sun-set,
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the frolicsome
crests and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray walls of the granite
store-houses by the docks,
On the river the shadowy group,
the big steam-tug closely flank’d on each side by
barges—the hay-boat, the
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
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 look’d
forward to them;
(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?
it is, it avails not-- distance avails not, and place avails not.
I too lived-- Brooklyn, of ample
hills, was mine;
I too walk’d 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 forever held in solution;
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
It is not upon you alone the dark
The dark threw patches down upon me also;
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
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,
resented, lied, stole, grudg’d, 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
But I was Manhattanese,
friendly and proud!
I was call’d 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,
sleeping, Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or
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
I consider’d long and seriously of you before you
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 me?
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,
From the general centre of all, and forming a part
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 river and sun-set, and my scallop-edg’d waves of
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 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.
We understand, then, do we not?
What I promis’d without mentioning it, have you not
What the study could not teach—what the preaching could not accomplish,
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-edg’d waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set! drench with your splendor me, or the men and
generations after me;
Cross from shore to shore,
countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up,
beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out
questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or public assembly!
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically
call me by my nighest name!
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
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-sail’d schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lower’d
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys!
cast black shadows at nightfall! cast red and yellow
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 rivers;
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 realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids;
Through you color, 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 novices!
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
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.
Leaves of Grass (1856)