Week 2: Critical Response Post, Whitman

Casey Young

American Literature 346


6 Sep. 2016

C.R.P. #1: Walt Whitman’s – Brooklyn Ferry

                For Walt Whitman’s poem, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, when trying to determine if

Walt Whitman is a more verbal or visual as a poet, that pondering can prove challenging in

the concept that individual experience will mold opinion, and ultimately it would prove

impossible to find consistency among mass population’s answers. I do not learn visually at

all, I am a kinetic and auditory learner. With that background about myself, when I express

that my opinion is that Whitman is a verbal poet, the obvious bias of my personal

experience is clear in its influence on my opinion of Whitman. If I learned almost solely

visually, would my opinion be consistent?

In Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Whitman describes many visual experiences or scenes

such as within the first stanzas:

  1. Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!

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

  3. Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!

  4. On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,

  5. And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose. (1-5)

Whitman is visual in his descriptive scenes such as when he writes, “On the ferry-boats

the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home” (4) or “Clouds of the west—sun

there half an hour high” (2). The language itself provides an image, which establishes the

argument of Whitman being a visual poet; however, Whitman also uses punctuation and

the end phrasing of his lines to create a conversational tone within his poetry. When he

says, “I see you face to face!” (1), Whitman directly addresses the poem’s audience in a

somewhat informal conversational tone. It is through the tone he provides this poem that

the dominance in Whitman as a verbal poet becomes more clearly understandable. When

he says, “face to face!” (1) he creates a scenario in the poem of the reader and Whitman,

himself, sharing a private space in a public setting where a personal conversation is being

interchanged between two people. This language does not give the impression of a speech

(or talking to a large audience) because of the intimateness of how the reader is addressed

due to the lack of generality in the tone… its personal. Even when Whitman is descriptive

of the scenery, he still provides the descriptions in a manner closer to commentary

because his opinion of the scene is also seemingly always, if sometimes passively,

present.  For example, when Whitman states, “Crowds of men and women attired in the

usual costumes, how curious you are to me!” (3) he provides a description, but word choice

such a ‘costume’ he is calling this scene partially fake like these people of he speaks of are

only pretending to live this way and denying their true selves. Costumes are associated

with events and typically will be worn once. The impermanence of a costume is what

creates this feeling such that these people are lying, perhaps to themselves if not to

others. His word choice and tone makes this commentary over just mere description

because personal bias of Whitman is present in the scene’s relaying.

The informality and conversational tone of this poem makes this verbal poetry.

Whitman is speaking. The reader is listening, and this is a moment or conversation

between Whitman and his audience. The verbal aspect is present because Whitman steps

from a formal narrative and maintain an informal conversation with his reader.


Works Cited:

Whitman, Walt. “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2016. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45470&gt;.


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