Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

Walt Whitman

Today is the birth date of Walt Whitman, poet. He was born in Huntington, Long Island in 1819 and is remembered today as the most American of poets. His magnum opus: the expansive and emotion-rich LEAVES OF GRASS, which he went on revising and editing until the end of his life.

The literary critic, Harold Bloom wrote, as the introduction for the 150th  anniversary edition of LEAVES OF GRASS:

If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of works as candidates for the Secular scripture of the United States. They might include Melville's MOBY DICK, Twain's ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, and Emerson's two series of essays and THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. None of those, not even Emerson's, are as central as the first edition of LEAVES OF GRASS.




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 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-join'd scheme - myself disintegrated, everyone 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 high;
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them, 
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 hence;
I project myself - also I return - I am with you and know how it is.

To read the rest of CROSSING BROOKLYN FERRY, please use this link.


  1. Thanks. You and Whitman made me slow down today.

  2. Everytime I am on Fulton Landing near the Brooklyn Bridge I think of this poem, Yvette. I often wonder what Whitman would think if he could see it all now?

  3. Wow! This post about Leaves of Grass.

    I grew up with this book on my parents' shelves for my entire childhood. It was always there, always ready to be opened.

    Unfortunately, when I packed up my mother's apartment four years ago, it wasn't among her books.

    Maybe I should get a copy.

    Crossing Brooklyn Ferry came to my attention 6 or 7 years ago when a friend read excerpts of it at a memorial for a friend of ours, a wonderful woman, who passed away at the age of 54 from breast cancer.

    I came home and looked up this poem on the Web and read it.

    Walt Whitman is a national treasure.

  4. I'm glad, C.W. Take it easy. Life is short. :)

  5. Pat, I think he'd love it. He loved hubbub and I think, the evolution of society intrigued him. He would have written a helluva poem about 9/11.

  6. Kathy: Couldn't agree with you more. You know you can look up all of Whitman's poems, LEAVES OF GRASS included, on line. There are many wonderful poetry websites.

  7. Thanks Jacqueline. I wanted to make sure and mark the day.


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