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An Analysis of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”



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    In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” the story follows the narrator’s experience with life as he takes a beautiful ferry ride. The man talks about the meaning of his life to other people. In this crowd he brings together all of the strangers and finds a connection. His journey through “space and time” is focused on the people. In the first sections, Whitman sets the scene by describing his surroundings. He personifies a few objects, thus, making them more relatable to the people he is surrounded by.

    He feels connected to a pattern larger than himself, and how the past and the future resemble each other. And so he gets into the real question of his musings: how is it that we are all connected? What is it that binds us? Walt Whitman asks himself and the reader of the poem what significance a person’s life holds in the scope of densely populated planet. The poem explores the difficulties of discovering the relevance of life. The methods that helped Whitman grasp his own idea of the importance of life are defined with some simple yet insightful and convincing observations.

    By living under and for the standards of others, a person can never live a fulfilling life. Distinguishing oneself from the mobs of society can be next to impossible when every other human is competing for the same recognition with their own similar accomplishments. The suggestion that Whitman offers as a means of becoming distinguished, or obtaining an identity, is to live a life of self-satisfaction. The persuasive devices in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” successfully communicate Whitman’s own theory of breaking the molds of society by living as a self-satisfying individual.

    What makes one person’s life different from the next? Whitman leaves the apprehension that the distinguishing characteristics are few. Whitman informs the audience that he has lead the same life as they, who lead the same life as their children will and their ancestors did. The poet questions the significance of a person’s achievements by asking, “My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre? ” It would be hard for any person to measure their self-accomplishments on the planetary scale which Whitman is speaking of.

    The second verse of the poem introduces the metaphor of the world being a “simple, compact, well-joined scheme” with the people dissolved into the “eternal float of solution. ” Like the mechanical ‘scheme’ that Whitman refers to, much of the poem consists of topics that possess a repetitive or mechanical quality. Sunrises, sunsets, tides, seasons, circling birds, the daily New York commute on the Brooklyn Ferry, and the cycling of generations are woven into the poem. A substantial amount of stanzas in the poem all begin with the same word.

    The continuous use of repetitive imagery conveys the feeling that our existence is in fact part of an infinitely moving machine that has no purpose or destination. By using these devices, Whitman shakes his audience with the convincing notion that life as it is normally perceived is not important. To assist these devices, lines that bring sudden tension into the poem further disturb the preconceptions of the audience: “Closer yet I approach you,” and “What thought you have of me now… Whitman now has the readers of his poem in a vulnerable state. This is where their minds can be easily swayed and he can preach his theory. Towards the middle of the poem, Whitman enters a passage that speaks of the “dark patches” that fall upon all people. The evil traits of guile, anger, lust, greed, cowardice, and hate that he, like all people, possess. These evils cause him to live a solitary existence where he did not interact with even the things that he loved. Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never I told them a word, Lived the same life as the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,” Following his comments about the bad parts of his life, he goes on to tell about what he enjoyed in his life. The things that gave him pleasure were in fact the sensory pleasures. What he saw in the world, the voices and sounds of the people, the accomplishments that he felt, and memories that he made were his justifications for living.

    Living his life to the fullest and cherishing the things that he did for himself gave him an identity. There is a key difference between living a meaningless life and a leading a rewarding life with a purpose. In the first case, the goal in life is to work hard to be accepted by the standards of others. As a result, a life will most likely wasted on work that gives no meaning or reward to the person. In the second case, a person can live for their own standards and behave in a way that is enjoyable to themselves. I too had receiv’d identity by my body, That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body. . . . About my body for me, and your body for you. . . ” The interiority as Whitman describes, guarantees that an individual can find meaning in life without comparing themselves against others and bringing out the evil and deceitful qualities of humans. In an ideal model of Whitman’s social behavior, everyone would be content and there would be no evil in the world. The final two lines of the poem set his conclusion regarding the importance of interiority its results on the world.

    You furnish your parts toward eternity, Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul. Whitman himself ignored the social standards of his day and by doing what fulfilled his personal goals, he established his own eternal identity as one of the greatest American poets. ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ communicates Whitman’s ideas about life in a discrete but highly effective manner. The phrase “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” gives the notion that once you leave child hood, or the cradle, you are continuously moving, in a flux, in a sense endlessly rocking.

    This is a very good title to this poem because it gets to the point of the poem, that once life starts, it is constant, and will not stop no matter what you do, or what happens. The speaker in this poem is a boy. The speaker shows the idea of innocence, the cradle. As the poem progresses finds a family of birds nesting in a tree by his house, one day one day he notices that the mother bird did not come home, and as the father bird chirps for the mother bird, the boy begins to translate what the bird is saying, in a sense discovering maturity, poetry, and enlightenment.

    This event in the boy’s life changes him from innocence, to maturity and a more enlightened state of the world, how things don’t stop just because something bad happens, how life is endlessly rocking. The boy has two conversations going on in this poem. One is talking about the summer he saw the bird family, in a sense, reminiscing about summers past. The other conversation is when the boy acted as a “translator” for the male bird, as he was calling for his mate. It this case, the audience was both the boy and the family of birds he was near.

    The setting of this poem is very interesting, it is very vague, and the author only drops bits of description here and there in the poem. Yet the setting is very vivid and it feels as though you can picture it. The setting was somewhere in America. The birds are described as “two feathered guests from Alabama”. The time is also known because it tells of “The five month grass growing” which means that it is May, and the author also talks about the moon rising, which implies that it is around dusk. This poem was written to tell about the author’s child hood, and how he discovered his inner talent for poetry.

    This happens when he is translating what the bird is saying and realizes that he has a skill for poetry, and has a very vivid imagination. The overall theme for this story is about the birth of the poet, but it can also be thought of as a poem about the death of the self. In the end, on the larger scale, these two ideas the same, because when the boy committed himself to poetry, he was succumbing to the flow of life, and agreeing that everything works together, and in a sense committing part of himself to the greater good.

    The tone of this poem is very cold, and intimate, he achieved this effect by using repetition of many words, and also using the word death, which he also repeated. The poem is arranged in the sequence of events, first he describes the soundings, than he tells about the birds, and how the female bird disappeared, and finally he talked about the male bird calling out for the female bird, and how he translated the birds calls. The poet arranged this poem like this so it would make sense.

    This is because if the poem was not written in sequential order there would be no way for the reader to understand what the poet was trying to get across. If the author did not write this poem in sequential order, it would also impede on the readers ability to comprehend he theme that the poet was going for, the idea that we are in a constant flux, and change. This poem had no real meter. This was a very free verse poem that allowed for free thought. However, when the bird was speaking, it was in a very rhythmic pattern.

    Walt Whitman was also very articulate in this poem, and there are some very good examples of diction that show this. First there is when he is describing the moon, “Low-hanging moon! What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow? ” What could have adequately been said in a few words was stretched out for two and a half lines in a stanza to allow the reader to fully surround themselves with the feeling that dusk brought. Another example of exquisite diction was when the author was referring to the boy’s translation of the bird after a few stanzas of the bird talking.

    The author referred to the birds monologue as an aria, which helps the reader comprehend the feeling that was put in to the birds song, it was not just a speech that the bird made, but literally a desperate cry for companionship, and his call to his soul mate, just as in the arias of operas in the past, and this is the word that helps link the two together. The author also uses many sound devices, most commonly replication and alliteration. With these two sound devices he was able to stress points, and also make clear a change of mood. Imagery also played a big role in this poem.

    Walt Whitman used imagery to conjure up thoughts in the minds of his readers. He describes the beach as “sterile sands. ” This description of the beach tends to make the reader think of the beach as barren, or without any imperfections. Another example of imagery is when the author is talking about the word death and says “That strong and delicious word” this statement shows us how passionately he feels about this word, it is such a strong word that it tantalizes him, just as the word delicious tantalizes us with the thought of a succulent meal. Personification is one of the most apparent poetic devices in this poem.

    It is seen when the author is allowing the bird to express its thoughts and feelings, this is personification because he is giving the bird human characteristics, in this case the characteristic of being able to share his thoughts and feelings. There are also some symbols and allusions in this poem. The symbol I found to be the most significant to the theme is the family of birds. This is a symbol because they are a family, a unit, but the mother is lost and because of that becomes one with everything else, which breaks apart the family, but at the same time brings the mother bird back to what she was always a part of.

    This shows the theme of the poem which is the idea that everything is in a constant change, and the only thing that is guaranteed to continue is change. There is also the allusion to the sea. I think that this represents a sea of knowledge, the idea of collective thought, and this is where the mother bird flew to. Because the bird flew to the sea of collective thought, the boy was able to tap into that to allow him to express himself like many have in the past, through poetry.

    Another thing that the author uses in his writing is irony, the ability to overstate, or understate something as to shed new light onto it. This happens when he overstates the word death. It seems that he is using the word in such a way that it eventually loses its meaning. This is what the author was trying to do, because death is just an idea, because someone doesn’t die until they are forgotten, and when the author overstated the word death, he shows the miniscule effect that death has over the world, and in turn gets back to his theme, that the world is always changing.

    This poem can be analyzed on many levels. On a basic level this poem could be thought of as an autobiography on how Walt Whitman discovered poetry, and how his imagination was first expressed. But there is also a deeper level of understanding to this poem; he shows the reader that everyone has their own way of expressing themselves. There is also the way the characters are portrayed in this poem, and how they show the theme of everything flowing together in the sea of life. This is seen when the boy translates for the bird, and it shows that everyone shares something.

    In this case it was the feeling the bird felt that was being expressed through the boy. These are great poems, and they engage the brain on many levels. In “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” the idea that life is ever-changing is represented. It also reaffirms the belief that everyone has a greater calling in life. This poem allows the reader to realize that you cannot just be to live, but you have to live to be. “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” goes well with this poem, because it focuses a lot on the beauty on everyday surroundings, something people often take for granted.

    An Analysis of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”. (2017, Mar 26). Retrieved from

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