Recurring Images And Motifs In Walt Whitman

’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Essay, Research Paper Recurring Images and Motifs in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry In the poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry , by Walt Whitman,

’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Essay, Research Paper

Recurring Images and Motifs in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

In the poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry , by Walt Whitman,

there are many recurring images and motifs that can be seen.

Whitman develops these images throughout the course of the

poem. The most dominant of these are the linear notion of

time, playing roles, and nature. By examining these motifs

and tracing their development, ones understanding of the poem

becomes highly deepened.

Whitman challenges the linear notion of time by

connecting past with future. This can be seen in the first

stanza, as the poem opens: And you that shall cross from

shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my

meditations than you might suppose (4-5). This lets the reader

know that he has written this with the reader in mind, even

before that reader existed. He challenges time by connecting

his time with ours. He has preconcived us reading this poem.

When we read his words we are connected to him and his feelings,

all in the same time. He is sure that after he is gone the water

will still run and people will still see the shipping of

Manhattan/and the heights of Brooklyn (14-15). He makes his past

and our futher all one.

No matter the time nor the distance, the reader will

experience the same way he experiences at the moment in time

he resides:

Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky,

so I felt,

Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was

one of a crowd,

Just as you are refresh d by the gladness of the

river and the bright flow, I was (23-26).

This same motif follows through to the next stanza, as he

continues to emphasize how things are the same to him as

they are to those of us interpreting the poem.

By tracing this motif we see that no matter where we are

or how far away from Brooklyn and Manhattan, the images that

Whitman saw will live on long after his passing. This deepens

the understanding of the poem and assists the reader to

comprehend Whitman s state of reasoning when composing this poem.

He, in fact, was writing this poem to be read long after he was

gone. He consider d long and seriously of you before you were

born (88). He realized that certain constants would stay the

same, including people and the roles they take in their lives.

In stanza six, the idea of playing roles develops:

Lived the same life with the rest, the same old

laughing, gnawing, sleeping,

Plays the part that still looks back on the actor or


The same old role, the role that is what we make it,

as great as we like,

Or as small as we like, or both great and small.(82-85)

This demonstrates how we all play a part in our life, but yet

we all experience the same feelings. We are trying to play a

role we are not. We hide behind our roles and hurry, not taking

the time to notice what Whitman noticed. He stood and watched ,

writing about what he saw, presuming that we will watch and

perceive the same.

There is yet further mention of how we play roles in

stanza nine: Live, old life! Play the part that looks back

on the actor or actress! (110). This deepens the understanding of

the point he is trying to convey. We are all playing the same

old roles, and taking on the same parts again, and again. The

role is enormous or small depending on the depth of ones


As the poem is further examined, we see Whitman s recurring

images of nature. Very frequently there is mention of water,

red and yellow light of the sky, hills, and sea-birds. The

birds, in fact, coincide with the motif of role playing. The

sea-birds, unlike humans, do not have to play a role. They

are free to be one with nature:

Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large

circles high in the air;

Receive the summer sky, you water, and faithfully

hold it till all downcast eyes

have time to take it from you!(113-115)

He tells the sea-birds to hold on to the beauty of nature, which

they are a part. They, unlike humans, do not look with

downcasting eyes (114).

Nature is the one constant, for Whitman, that does not

change. In a sense it is perfection. It is the everlasting source

of life, which will remain long after our lives are through:

Fifty years hence,/A hundred years hence, or ever so many

hundred years hence, other will see (17-18). It has stayed

the same then, now, tomorrow, and beyond: These and all else

were to me the same as they are to you (49). As humans we accept

it for what it is. We do not look at it as we do humans. We

should look at humans this way – as perfect, pure, no masks, not

playing a role.

By examining these motifs and tracing their development,

the poem itself becomes more clear to the reader. We learn

that Whitman developed this poem with the idea it would be

read hundreds of years later. It is apparent that there is a

connection between people and their roles, nature, and time.

As times goes on thus nature goes on. People continue to hide

behind roles, unable to be as that of nature–unjudging. Nature

will continue to exist as the people around it continue to

stay the same, hurrying along in the masses oblivious to the

wonders around them.