Ferry Reflections is a poem about the timeless nature of human existence and the enduring connections that connect all people across generations. It evokes a sense of unity and shared humanity, along with a reverence for the beauty of the natural world.
In section 5, Whitman likens his physical existence to a ferry plying between two shores of mortality and immortality. He believes that his body, like the ferry, is a vehicle that unites him with all mankind.
What is the poem about?
A poem can be about almost anything. It can be a statement of philosophy, a moralistic story, or an exploration of the sound of language. It can also be a simple, goofy joke. It’s important to remember that poems are not written primarily to convey a message, but rather to create art using language.
To find the meaning in a poem, you must first look at how it’s organized. What are the main ideas in the poem? What is the order of those ideas? What are the motifs or metaphors in the poem?
The first line of the poem is a direct appeal to children, asking them not to grow up too quickly because they haven’t experienced life’s hardships. The poet then goes on to remind them of the beauty in nature and their daily lives. This poem is a gentle reminder to enjoy each moment because it is precious and fleeting.
The speaker of the poem feels a strong sense of loss after witnessing the disaster of 9/11. The narrator reflects on the ferocity of nature and the beauty of humanity in the face of such a tragedy. He encourages readers to not forget those who were lost but to move forward and make a difference in the world. The narrator also mentions that time waits for no one, reminding readers to seize the day!
Why is the poet interested in the subject matter of the title?
As the poem begins, the speaker observes the natural world with a scientific interest. They notice the life cycle of frogspawn and the way that they move from egg to tadpole to frog. But this creates a hierarchy between the speaker and nature—they are observing it, not participating in it. This attitude is part of the speaker’s problem—it contributes to their sense of disconnection from the natural world and from other people.
In contrast, when the poet looks at the “White House” of the poem’s title, they feel that it is a symbol of white society and power. It is not the presidential home, but rather a house that represents the vast modern edifice of American industry and the powers that go with it. The poem is set in the United States, and the speaker feels a deep sense of exclusion when they see this house. They feel a raw anger and deep passion that is churning inside them, but they try to control this by walking “down the decent street.”
The poem focuses on themes of love and loss, as well as the struggle of black students to develop their talents. The poem is also a tribute to Claude McKay, an African-American writer who was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. The poem’s lyrical style, subject matter, and timeframe all work together to convey these ideas.
What various emotions does the poem trigger in its readers?
The poem elicits a wide range of emotions in its readers, including wonder, nostalgia, introspection and a sense of unity and shared humanity. It also evokes a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature.
Whitman reflects on the immeasurable sustenance he derives from his surroundings, highlighting the physical and spiritual benefits that come from connecting with nature. He envisions future generations experiencing the same things that he does, reinforcing his belief in an eternal connection with all aspects of existence.
In the final stanza, Whitman celebrates the power of the human spirit and its ability to transcend time. He calls upon the countless ferry passengers and the tangible world of Manhattan and Brooklyn to “stand up with vibrancy” and empowers them to question and seek knowledge. This demonstrates his belief in the importance of intellectual and philosophical inquiry as a tool for personal growth.
The free-verse composition of ‘Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry’ allows Whitman to explore the timeless aspects of life and humanity. The poem’s vivid imagery and contemplative verses invite readers to ponder the beauty of the natural world and our enduring connections with past, present and future generations.
What is the poem’s tone?
This mesmerizing piece takes us to a tranquil, contemplative moment at sea. The cold grey sea and its vast expanse invites a sense of cool serenity and brightness that calms the soul.
As the narrator of the poem notes, it is difficult to maintain devotional practices on board ship. Life underway on a warship seems naturally hostile to meditation—the constant noise of the engine room, the frequent collisions between warships and other ships, the numerous small and large frustrations, and the relentless schedule all contribute to an almost pervasive feeling of anxiety.
But despite the challenges, there are still moments of quiet and solitude to be found. The natural beauty of the ocean, its endless swell and rise, and the sense of timelessness it conveys can inspire a sense of spiritual wonder in all of us.
Laura Emerson is a self-taught freediver and photographer who finds a deep calling for the sea. Her photography explores the “alteration of perception,” akin to a deconditioning of the mind, that occurs underwater and leads to oneness with nature and a sense of peace and well-being. Her work is infused with mindfulness practice, the poetry of Friedrich Holderlin and John Keats, and transcendental idealism. The sea originally frightened her, but she was irresistibly drawn to it and eventually learned to look at it with awe and wonder.