Birds of Passage and Sea-Drift: Summary and Analysis

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Pioneers! O Pioneers! - Summary
The poet describes and pays tribute to the American pioneers who bravely set out to discover and settle new lands in America’s western frontier. Whitman says he too is a part of this “resistless restless race” who through “the battle” and even in “defeat” continues its relentless journey of discovery. The pioneers have chosen to abandon the comfort and safety of their homes and endure dangers and hardship in their quest for adventure and a better life.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Leaves of Grass Study Guide

Subscribe Now

We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Year of Meteors- Summary
The poet recounts some of the significant events that occurred during the year 1859–1860.

Year of meteors! brooding year!
I would bind in words retrospective some of your deeds and signs.

It was a year when “comets and meteors transient and strange” appeared in the sky, but it was also a year of great political and social upheaval in the United States. Eighteen sixty was the presidential election year when Lincoln and Douglas held their famous debates. Other significant events of the time included the abolitionist John Brown being hung for treason on December 2, 1859 in Virginia; ships of immigrants and exotic cargoes arriving in Manhattan; and the “young prince of England” (Edward, Prince of Wales) visiting New York City on October 11, 1860. Whitman concludes the poem by asking, “What am I myself but one of your meteors?”

Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking - Summary
Whitman recalls an experience he had as a young boy, wandering a beach on Paumanok, Long Island. As he walked along the seashore, he discovered two mockingbirds, a male and female, nesting in the grass:

Two feather’d guests from Alabama, two together,
And their nest, and four light-green eggs spotted with brown,
And every day the he-bird to and fro near at hand,
And every day the she-bird crouch’d on her nest, silent, with bright eyes,
And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never disturbing them
Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.

One day the young Whitman notices that the female bird has disappeared. The male waits and waits, but his mate never returns. The male cries out to the wind and sea, lamenting his loss. Young Whitman is deeply moved by the bird’s song, and he wonders if the bird is actually singing to him. All the sounds of nature, along with the bird’s sad “aria,” move him in a mysterious way. The boy wonders about the purpose of the song, and he ponders the meaning of life and death. Finally, Whitman is inspired to begin singing his own songs, or poems, (“My own songs awaked from that hour…”) for the first time in his young life.

On the Beach at Night Alone - Summary
Whitman describes a moment of reflection as he stands on a deserted beach, listening to the ocean and studying the starry sky. He believes there is, and always has been, a universal link among all things that exist on earth and in the heavens.

A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies…

Analysis of Birds of Passage and Sea-Drift
With Birds of Passage and Sea-Drift , Whitman continues to explore and describe the common thread he believes links all people and all things. The essence of human beings, animals, nature, emotions, ideas, and the entire universe—all that has ever existed or will exist—are, in Whitman’s view, connected. Whitman frequently includes himself in his poems, and he also compares himself with his poems’ characters and their journeys, philosophical inquiries, and spiritual...

(The entire section contains 977 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Leaves of Grass study guide. You'll get access to all of the Leaves of Grass content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Themes
  • Critical Essays
  • Analysis
  • Short-Answer Quizzes
  • Quotes
  • Teaching Guide
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Calamus: Summary and Analysis


By the Roadside: Summary and Analysis