Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

Original Text: 
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891-92): 129-34. PS 3201 1891 Robarts Library.
1Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
2Clouds of the west -- sun there half an hour high -- I see you also face to face.
3Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
4On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
5And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
6The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
7The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
8The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
9The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
10The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
11The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
12The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.
13Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
14Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
15Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
16Others will see the islands large and small;
17Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
18A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
19Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
20It avails not, time nor place -- distance avails not,
21I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
22Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
23Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
24Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh'd,
25Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
26Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm'd pipes of steamboats, I look'd.
27I too many and many a time cross'd the river of old,
29Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
30Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
31Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
32Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
33Look'd at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape of my head in the sunlit water,
34Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and south-westward,
35Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,
36Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the vessels arriving,
37Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,
38Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the ships at anchor,
39The sailors at work in the rigging or out astride the spars,
40The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender serpentine pennants,
41The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-houses,
42The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the wheels,
43The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset,
44The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the frolicsome crests and glistening,
45The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray walls of the granite storehouses by the docks,
47On the neighboring shore the fires from the foundry chimneys burning high and glaringly into the night,
48Casting their flicker of black contrasted with wild red and yellow light over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of streets.
49These and all else were to me the same as they are to you,
50I loved well those cities, loved well the stately and rapid river,
51The men and women I saw were all near to me,
52Others the same -- others who look back on me because I look'd forward to them,
53(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)
54What is it then between us?
55What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
56Whatever it is, it avails not -- distance avails not, and place avails not,
57I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
58I too walk'd the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
59I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
60In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,
61In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,
62I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
63I too had receiv'd identity by my body,
64That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.
65It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
66The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
67The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious,
68My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
69Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil,
70I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
71I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
72Blabb'd, blush'd, resented, lied, stole, grudg'd,
73Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
74Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
75The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
76The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
77Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting,
78Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest,
79Was call'd by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
80Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
81Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
82Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
83Play'd the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
84The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,
85Or as small as we like, or both great and small.
86Closer yet I approach you,
87What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you -- I laid in my stores in advance,
88I consider'd long and seriously of you before you were born.
89Who was to know what should come home to me?
90Who knows but I am enjoying this?
91Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see me?
92Ah, what can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemm'd Manhattan?
93River and sunset and scallop-edg'd waves of flood-tide?
94The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the twilight, and the belated lighter?
95What 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?
96What is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in my face?
97Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you?
98We understand then do we not?
99What I promis'd without mentioning it, have you not accepted?
100What the study could not teach -- what the preaching could not accomplish is accomplish'd, is it not?
101Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
102Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg'd waves!
103Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women generations after me!
104Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
106Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
107Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
108Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house or street or public assembly!
109Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my nighest name!
110Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or actress!
111Play the old role, the role that is great or small according as one makes it!
112Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking upon you;
113Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste with the hasting current;
114Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air;
115Receive the summer sky, you water, and faithfully hold it till all downcast eyes have time to take it from you!
116Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any one's head, in the sunlit water!
117Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sail'd schooners, sloops, lighters!
118Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lower'd at sunset!
119Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the houses!
120Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are,
121You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul,
122About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung out divinest aromas,
123Thrive, cities -- bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and sufficient rivers,
124Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual,
125Keep your places, objects than which none else is more lasting.
126You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers,
127We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate henceforward,
128Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves from us,
129We use you, and do not cast you aside -- we plant you permanently within us,
130We fathom you not -- we love you -- there is perfection in you also,
131You furnish your parts toward eternity,
132Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.


28] Twelfth-month: December. Back to Line
46] lighter: a boat that loads and unloads other ships. Back to Line
105] Mannahatta: native word for "Manhattan." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.