An Analysis of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” By Austin Cooley
ENGL 2027 – 007
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,...
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