Further Reading

“Flow on, river! flow with the flood tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!” —Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

 

WALT WHITMAN PROSE

From a Travelling Bachelor

In 1849, a year after being fired as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for his support of the Free Soil Party, Whitman wrote a series of "Letters from a Travelling Bachelor" for the New York Sunday Dispatch, which published human-interest stories, serials, fiction, poetry, reviews of books and the theater, as well as local and national news items. In Letter Number 10, published on December 23rd, Whitman describes his experience riding the Brooklyn Ferry and introduces some of the observations and language that would eventually appear in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. “There is ‘a great deal of human nature,’ to be seen in crossing the Fulton Ferry”, he notes. More.

My Passion for Ferries

From Whitman’s book Specimen Days and Collect, a series of notes, essays, and observations, first published in 1882.

“Living in Brooklyn or New York city from this time forward, my life, then, and still more the following years, was curiously identified with Fulton ferry, already becoming the greatest of its sort in the world for general importance, volume, variety, rapidity, and picturesqueness. Almost daily, later, (’50 to ’60,) I cross’d on the boats, often up in the pilot-houses where I could get a full sweep, absorbing shows, accompaniments, surroundings. What oceanic currents, eddies, underneath—the great tides of humanity also, with ever-shifting movements. Indeed, I have always had a passion for ferries; to me they afford inimitable, streaming, never-failing, living poems. The river and bay scenery, all about New York island, any time of a fine day—the hurrying, splashing sea-tides—the changing panorama of steamers, all sizes, often a string of big ones outward bound to distant ports—the myriads of white-sail’d schooners, sloops, skiffs, and the marvel-lously beautiful yachts—the majestic sound boats as they rounded the Battery and came along towards 5, afternoon, eastward bound—the prospect off towards Staten island, or down the Narrows, or the other way up the Hudson—what refreshment of spirit such sights and experiences gave me years ago (and many a time since.) My old pilot friends, the Balsirs, Johnny Cole, Ira Smith, William White, and my young ferry friend, Tom Gere—how well I remember them all.”


ESSAYS 

A Close Reading of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

From Poets.org: "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" is a poem about a man taking the Brooklyn ferry home from Manhattan at the end of a working day. It is one of Walt Whitman’s best-known and best-loved poems because it so astutely and insightfully argues for Whitman’s idea that all humans are united in their common experience of life. A long poem in nine sections, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” prepares us for the final poem of Leaves of Grass, when Whitman writes, “Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, / Missing me one place search another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you.” Whitman achieves, in these two poems, an intimacy of address and commonality of experience that bridge the gap between writer and reader. More

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry: The Shaping Imagination

By McNamara, Eugene: “In Specimen Days, Whitman recalled that his life in the 1840s and 1850s was "... curiously identified with Fulton Ferry." He remembered that from the ferryboat he saw". .. full sweep, absorbing shows, accompaniments, surroundings." Then, in language reminiscent of the imagery in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," he went on:

What oceanic currents, eddies, underneath- the great tides of humanity also, with ever- shifting movements. Indeed, I have always had a passion for ferries; to me they afford in- imitable, streaming, never-failing, living poems. The river and bay scenery, all about New York island, any time ofa fine day- the hurrying, splashing sea-tides- the changing panorama ofsteamers, all sizes, ... the myriads ofwhite-sail'd schooners, sloops, skiffs....

T o readers today, Whitman's word "panorama" denotes little more than simply a busy scene spread out in a wide perspective. In Whitman's time, "panorama" had a more specific context. Sometimes it was a building designed to house a work ofart. John Vanderlyn's large panorama Versailles, for instance, extended over some 3000 square feet and the canvas demanded a rotunda big enough to contain it. John Ban- vard's Panorama of the Mississippi took up a different space. It was a canvas twelve feet high and three miles long. The painting was stored on large cylinders and un- spooled before audiences. It took two hours to veiw the whole painting and hear Ban- vard's accompanying lecture. More

On Time and Form in Whitman's “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

By Paul A. Orlov: In the Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman speaks of the poet as a "seer" whose creative and imaginative breath "dilates" any "thing that was before thought small . . . with the grandel)r and life of the universe."l One of the recurring phrases in his poem, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," is "great and small," and Whitman uses his poetic imagination to transform what might have been his "smallest sights and hearings" into the "glories" ofthe transcendental experience which is the poem.2 For initially, the poem concerns the poet's small personal moment on the ferry, but at once, as Howard Waskow has noted, "the physical act of,crossing Brooklyn ferry' is analogous to the crossings achieved by the imagination"3 in its ex- plorations of experience. And those imaginative crossings pass through the barriers oftime and space, thus filling the given moment with "the grandeur and life of the universe" - and of eternity. More

When Time and Place Avail: Whitman’s Written Orator Reconsidered

By Jake Adam York

"It avails not, time nor place-distance avails not. . . . "
"Whatever it is, it avails not-distance avails not, and place avails not...."1

So WHITMAN INSISTS in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." And whatever else they do, these insistences, these denials, militate against another de- nial-the denial of proximity to future generations, of self to other. But to many critics, it seems, one denial must be exchanged for the other. Most readings of the poem's argument conclude that being in one time means not being in another, that being is also barrier, and that connec- tion between or across times means that one or more of the states of being must be perforated, dismantled, transcended, or otherwise abro- gated. More.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

By Howard Nelson: "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" first appeared in the second edition of Leaves of Grass under the title "Sun-Down Poem." It received its present title in 1860, and Whitman revised the poem through the various editions. Thoreau named it and "Song of Myself" as his favorite Whitman poems, and he was only one of the first in a long line of readers who have ranked "Crossing" among Whitman's best. It is one of those mid-length lyrics that offered Whitman what some critics have felt to be his most effective form—not so sprawling as "Song of Myself" but with enough space to allow him some musical and thematic amplitude. "Crossing" is generally regarded, along with "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," as one of his supreme achievements in this mode.  More

Walt Whitman’s “Sun-Down Poem”: Capturing a Unique Moment in American History

The thorough reader of Walt Whitman poetry recognizes his unprecedented talent and unique style. His lifetime work, Leaves of Grass, remains to this day arguably one of the most wildly assessed books of poetry and most pivotal cornerstones of contemporary poetry. However, without attribution to the precedents set in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Poet,” perhaps Whitman’s expertise falls on deaf ears. It is important in an anthology to connect Emerson’s text to Whitman’s poems, since Emerson arguably creates a market for the transcendental American Poet. His innovation centers itself upon the common and universal human soul, which unites all, and places a greater importance on the poet for revealing this soul to the masses. When Whitman writes his “Sun-Down Poem,” these American transcendentalist aspirations consume him. This poem has since come to be known as “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” a much more fitting title based on its content. The words of “Sun-Down Poem” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” give us a window into the poet’s mind, hinting at the cause for his unique style and establish the value in this sort of innovation through his writing. More

When Things Go Missing: Reflections on Two Seasons of Loss.

By Kathryn Schulz: A funny, poignant, and ultimately inspiring New Yorker essay about loss, whether of car keys or loved ones, with a cathartic reading Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. More 

Democracy

By Ed Folsom: "Democracy" is the organizing concept that unites Whitman's poetics, politics, and metaphysics. Democracy always remained for Whitman an ideal goal, never a realized practice. He saw democracy as an inevitable evolutionary force in human history, and he did all he could to urge the evolution along, but he was under no illusions that a functioning democratic society would come easily or quickly. As part of his democratic effort, he tried to invent a poetry as open, as nondiscriminatory, and as absorptive as he imagined an ideal democracy would be. He tried, in other words, to construct a democratic voice that would serve as a model for his society—a difficult task, since he was well aware that his nation and his world were still filled with antidemocratic sentiments, laws, customs, and institutions, and he knew that no writer could rise above all the biases and blindnesses of his particular historical moment. Whitman believed, however, that the United States in the nineteenth century had the opportunity to become the first culture in human history to experience the beginnings of a true democracy. More


VIDEOS

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

The Brooklyn Public Library celebrates the bicentennial of Walt Whitman's birthday with a full recitation of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" featuring Brooklynites reading Whitman's iconic words aloud in locations all across the borough he loved.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

Excerpt from the 1999 Documentary Film on New York by Ric Burns

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

The deathbed edition, read by Will Geer, recorded in 1957.

SCHOLARLY RESOURCES

Whitman's Brooklyn: A Virtual Visit Circa 1850

If Walt Whitman’s association with Brooklyn is not necessarily overlooked by scholars and biographers, then neither is it explicitly emphasized. The fact of Whitman’s residency – he lived in Brooklyn for over half his life, and twice as long as he lived anywhere else – might not be so meaningful if his work wasn’t so saturated with the physical world. Whitman celebrated physicality, not only of the body but of the environment, and one is hard-pressed to imagine such muscular symbols having arisen from anywhere other than the explosion of progress along the East River in New York in the mid-nineteenth century. If one of the miracles of Whitman’s poetry is how successfully it transcends time, one of its wonders is how richly it evokes place.

An Online Critical Edition

Created by Jesse Merandy, The Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Online Critical Edition is a new approach to interacting with literature online. As we continue to imagine ways to make the study of literature more meaningful in this multi-media age, as we try to make the past come to life in our present, it is necessary to look at how the new tools we have at our disposal can help us accomplish this objective. This project is an effort to show how we can build from the wealth of resources and databases currently available to us online, and pay tribute to the digital Whitman scholars whose efforts have laid the important groundwork for online projects. It is hoped that this website represents another step in the evolution of online scholarship and helps to inspire future works.

Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review is a literary quarterly sponsored by the Graduate College and the Department of English and published by The University of Iowa. WWQR is the official journal of the Walt Whitman Studies Association, affiliated with the American Literature Association. Beginning with volume 33, no. 1 (summer 2015) the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review has become an open-access, online-only publication.

The Walt Whitman Archive

The Walt Whitman Archive features a vast collection of poetry and letters written by Walt Whitman, together with biographical summaries, audio recordings and contemporaneous reviews of his work. It is the most comprehensive record of works by and about Whitman. The Archive is directed by Kenneth M. Price (University of Nebraska–Lincoln) and Ed Folsom (University of Iowa), with ongoing contributions from many other editor-scholars, students, information professionals, and technologists.

WhitmanWeb

WhitmanWeb is a collaboration between the International Writing Program and the Walt Whitman Archive, both institutions grounded in the deep literary culture of the University of Iowa. The website was launched in 2012, featuring Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” in nine languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Persian, Portuguese, Russian (in two versions), Spanish, and Ukrainian. Arabic (in two versions), Malay, Polish, Romanian, Khmer, Kurdish and Filipino translations followed in 2013 and 2014. The idea behind the project was to have a conversation, across languages, borders, and time zones, about the multiple meanings of this foundational text.

WHITMAN PROJECTS

Body of the Poet: Walt Whitman’s New York

In celebration of Walt Whitman’s two-hundredth birthday on May 31, 2019, The Grolier Club presents Poet of the Body: New York’s Walt Whitman. This site, designed and built by five graduate students at Bard Graduate Center, offers visitors the opportunity to digitally explore several of the exhibition’s incredible objects and further connect to the nineteenth-century poet.

Whitman, Alabama

This is an experiment in using documentary and poetry to reveal the threads that tie us together—as people, as states, and as a nation. For two years, filmmaker Jennifer Crandall has crisscrossed this deep Southern state, inviting people to look into a camera and share a part of themselves through the words of Walt Whitman. The 19th century poet’s “Song of Myself” is a quintessential reflection of our American identities. Who is America? The question will always be a difficult one. But if you listen to Alabama’s many voices, you may hear some of the answer. "For," as Whitman says, “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."

Every Atom: Reflections on Walt Whitman at 200

Two hundred years after Walt Whitman’s birth, how do we grapple with the complexities of his legacy? The vision for these United States that Whitman offers in the many iterations of his book is both idealistic and naïve, if not an obfuscation of his previous flirtation with nativist politics and outright racist commentary.

Yet Whitman also reaches us as the ultimate outsider, a rebel, a significant innovator, a showman and a self-made man, one of the roughs, flaneur, the self-fashioned Good Gray Poet, and the poet who insists that the slave is equal to the man who enslaves.