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:
Flood-tide below me! I see 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 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. (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.
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>.