Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

One of the difficulties of “Cavalry Crossing a Ford” is that it appears so effortless, so artless. It seems as if the poet simply wrote about what he saw, without adornment. In fact, however, the poem is highly artful. First, the poet’s language controls the pace and flow of the poem, alternately slowing and speeding the reader along. Second, the apparent artlessness of the poem masks the speaker’s presence and control of the poem.

The poem is written in free verse. The first five lines contain from fourteen to twenty-three syllables per line and are broken into a series of three-stress units or phrases, such as “Behold the silvery river, in it the splashing horses loitering stop to drink.” The three-stress phrases—“Behold the silvery river,” “in it the splashing horses,” and “loitering stop to drink”—slow the pace of the poem. Each of these units ends with an accented syllable, causing the reader to pause momentarily. The effect is to create lines that contain a series of semiautonomous images. These semiautonomous phrases mirror the cavalrymen themselves. Just as the group of cavalry is made up of individuals, “each person a picture,” so too the poem is made up of phrases, each one a picture, each one contributing its part to the whole.

However, the last two lines differ markedly from the first five. These lines contain only eight and eleven syllables, with four and five stresses, respectively. The lines are...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

“Cavalry Crossing a Ford” is written in free verse, which means it adheres to no set pattern of rhyme or meter. Instead, it is organized...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

Write a poem that gives an impressionistic description of something happening near where you live, viewing it from a far distance.


(The entire section is 142 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

A 1987 video entitled Walt Whitman, from the Great Works of American Literature series, is available from Focus Media Inc. It...

(The entire section is 136 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

A good anthology of poetry from the Civil War, broken down into “Confederate Poetry” and “Union Poetry,” can be found at http://www....

(The entire section is 297 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Bly, Robert, “Understanding the Image As a Form of Intelligence,” A Field Guide to Contemporary Poetry and Poet-...

(The entire section is 441 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Allen, Gay Wilson. A Reader’s Guide to Walt Whitman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970.

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. Rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 1967.

Asselineau, Roger. The Evolution of Walt Whitman. Expanded ed. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999.

Gold, Arthur, comp. Walt Whitman: A Collection of Criticism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.

Greenspan, Ezra, ed. Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.

Miller, James E., Jr. Walt Whitman. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Pearce, Roy Harvey, ed. Whitman: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962.

Reynolds, David S., ed. Walt Whitman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Sowder, Michael. Whitman’s Ecstatic Union: Conversion and Ideology in “Leaves of Grass.” New York: Routledge, 2005.

Woodress, James, ed. Critical Essays on Walt Whitman. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

Zweig, Paul. Walt Whitman: The Making of a Poet. New York: Basic Books, 1984.