Unleashing the Boundaries of Time

One of the many intriguing features of Walt Whitman’s poetry is his ability to blur the boundaries of time. In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman speaks of his present as the past and his future as the present. Trying to conceptualize this concept can be very tricky; nonetheless, Whitman effectively creates an illusion of timelessness throughout the poem that creates an intimate connection between himself and the reader.

Throughout the poem, Whitman employs the literary techniques of diction and imagery to achieve this feeling of the interconnectedness of generations. In the first line of the poem, Whitman immediately introduces his connection to future readers: “I see you face to face” (section 1). While he may simply be speaking to nature, after reading the entire poem, it becomes quite obvious that this first line is also directed towards the reader. Whitman supports this understanding of the first line several lines later, when he explains, “you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose” (section 1). This theme is continuously reintroduced over the course of the poem. Whitman believes that regardless of the “time nor place…I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence” (section 3). Although Whitman does a tremendous job of expressing this idea, it is not unique to his writing. Rather, Whitman is a product of the Transcendentalist era.

By selecting his words carefully, Whitman succeeds in evoking the Transcendentalist motif of the universal connection of all people. One way he does this is by repeating specific phrases to begin several consecutive lines. For example, he starts many successive line with “others will…” (section 2), “just as you…” (section 3), and “I too…” (section 5).  He chooses each of these phrases to show that “these and all else were to me the same as they are to you” (section 4). In other words, everything that we do, see, think, and feel in our lives, he did, saw, thought, and felt in his. In reading his poetry and contemplating Whitman in our own lives, we extend his life. Because he understands that his “time will come,” he dreams that “others [will] look back on me because I look’d forward to them” (section 4). By facing his own physical death, he learns to live eternally through his poetry.

Furthermore, Whitman vividly describes detailed images to share his vision with us. A perfect example is his description of the sea-gulls “floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies…glistening yellow” (section 3).  Other examples of his detailed descriptions are “the crested and scallop-edg’d waves” and the “red and yellow light over the tops of the houses” (section 9).  When we see the sea-gulls flying, the waves flowing, and the skyline lights shining, we are bringing to fruition everything Whitman “consider’d long and seriously…before [we] were born” (section 7).

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2 Comments so far

  1.   David Rand on September 22nd, 2010

    The main difference between the voices employed in Peter’s post and my post is the implied audience. I believe that Peter is directly speaking to the members of our class, as if it was a class discussion. For example, he begins, “To me, the repeated motif of crowds stood out the most.” This first line says it all. He creates a very conversational voice by saying “to me,” and implies that his audience knows exactly what he is writing about by jumping straight into his discussion of the poem, without any background. On the other hand, I believe that anyone can read and contemplate my blog post, without having any knowledge about our assignment. Additionally, my post’s voice has a more formal quality. It is very interesting to see how two writers, discussing the same subject matter through the same medium (an online blog), can express themselves in such different manners.

  2.   Onno Vocks Mugshot on April 8th, 2013

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not fail me as much as this particular one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, however I truly thought you would have something useful to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

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