The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” first appeared in 1856 under the title “Sun-Down Poem.” It was one of the twenty new poems added to the twelve originally untitled poems of the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855), the collection that Walt Whitman thought of as a single poem that he continued to expand and revise over the course of nine distinct editions. “Sun-Down Poem” became “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” in the third, and again expanded, edition of Leaves of Grass published in 1860. The poem, in its final form of 132 lines, develops a single major idea throughout nine sections, the last of which serves as both reprise and climax.

The original and revised titles introduce the temporal and spatial figures that play such important parts in the poem and in the context of Whitman’s other writings. With the sun still “half an hour high” and the flood tide running, the narrator—not Whitman the man or Whitman the poet but the Whitmanic persona—is seen making the crossing between Brooklyn and Manhattan aboard the Fulton Street Ferry. Just as the literal ferry carries him from shore to shore, the figurative ferry and the equally figurative flood tide carry him “far away” to that purely poetic place from which his highly metaphorical meditation on time and space, doubt and faith, issues.

The extensive panorama of city and river as seen from the ever-moving (yet in a sense seemingly stationary) ferry gradually...

(The entire section is 444 words.)