Selected Criticism

"Patroling Barnegat" (1880)
Wohlpart, A. James
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

In the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman placed "Patroling Barnegat" as the second to last poem in the "Sea-Drift" cluster, a rather important position because, with this poem, the cluster moves towards its closure. "Patroling Barnegat" was originally published in June 1880 in The American and then reprinted in April of 1881 in Harper's Monthly and remained in its penultimate position in the "Sea-Drift" cluster in the Deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass.

"Patroling Barnegat" is broken into two linked sections, the first of which describes the wild and stormy sea as it crashes on the beach during a windy night and the second of which describes a coast patrol as it watches for wrecked vessels and confronts the sea and the wind. The poem has often been noted for its evocative power as it represents, through its use of the present participle, of assonance and consonance, and of specific metrical patterns, the terror and force of the sea and the pathos of humans struggling against their environment.

However, read in the context of the "Sea-Drift" cluster as a whole and the cluster's movement towards recognition of the immortality of the human soul, the poem appears less dark. While "Patroling Barnegat" seems to describe a confrontation with death and mortality, such a confrontation, when read with the other poems in the cluster, and especially the final poem, "After the Sea-Ship," only heralds the ultimate immortality of humanity.


Chari, V.K. "Whitman Criticism in the Light of Indian Poetics." Walt Whitman: The Centennial Essays. Ed. Ed Folsom. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1994. 240–250.

Fast, Robin Riley. "Structure and Meaning in Whitman's Sea-Drift." American Transcendental Quarterly 53 (1982): 49–66.

French, R.W. "Whitman's Dark Sea: A Note on 'Patroling Barnegat.'" Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 1.3 (1983): 50–52.

Haynes, Gregory M. "Running Aground in Barnegat Bay: Whitman's Symbols and Their Rhetorical Intentionalities." Walt Whitman: Here and Now. Ed. Joann P. Krieg. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1985. 115–124.

Malbone, Raymond G. "Organic Language in 'Patroling Barnegat.'" Walt Whitman Review 13 (1967): 125–127.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Ed. Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett. Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 1973.

Wohlpart, A. James. "From Outsetting Bard to Mature Poet: Whitman's 'Out of the Cradle' and the Sea-Drift Cluster." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 (1991): 77–90.


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