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Crossing Brooklyn Ferry


1FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you, face to face; Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I  
 see you also face to face.
2Crowds of men and women attired in the usual cos- 
 tumes! how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that  
 cross, returning home, are more curious to me  
 than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years  
 hence, are more to me, and more in my med- 
 itations, than you might suppose.
3The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at  
 all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-joined scheme—myself  
 disintegrated, every one disintegrated, yet part  
 of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future, The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights  
 and hearings—on the walk in the street, and  
 the passage over the river,
  [ begin page 380 ]ppp.01500.388.jpg The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with  
 me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me  
 and them,
The certainty of others—the life, love, sight, hear- 
 ing of others.
4Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross  
 from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide, Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and  
 west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south  
 and east,
Others will see the islands large and small, Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, 
 the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred  
 years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood- 
 tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
5It avails not, neither time or place—distance avails  
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, 
 or ever so many generations hence,
I project myself—also I return—I am with you, and  
 know how it is.
6Just 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 refreshed by the gladness of the river, 
 and the bright flow, I was refreshed,
  [ begin page 381 ]ppp.01500.389.jpg Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with  
 the swift current, I stood, yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, 
 and the thick-stemmed pipes of steamboats, I  
7I too many and many a time crossed the river, the  
 sun half an hour high,
I watched the Twelfth Month sea-gulls—I saw them  
 high in the air, floating with motionless wings, 
 oscillating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their  
 bodies, and left the rest in strong shadow,
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual  
 edging toward the south.
8I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the  
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of  
Looked at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round  
 the shape of my head in the sun-lit water,
Looked on the haze on the hills southward and south- 
Looked on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with  
Looked toward the lower bay to notice the arriving  
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near  
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the  
 ships at anchor,
The sailors at work in the rigging, or out astride the  
  [ begin page 382 ]ppp.01500.390.jpg The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, 
 the slender serpentine pennants,
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in  
 their pilot-houses,
The white wake left by the passage, the quick trem- 
 ulous whirl of the wheels,
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sun-set, The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled  
 cups, the frolicsome crests and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the  
 gray walls of the granite store-houses by the  
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug  
 closely flanked on each side by the barges—the  
 hay-boat, the belated lighter,
On the neighboring shore, the fires from the foundry  
 chimneys burning high and glaringly into the  
Casting, their flicker of black, contrasted with wild  
 red and yellow light, over the tops of houses, 
 and down into the clefts of streets.
9These, and all else, were to me the same as they are  
 to you,
I project myself a moment to tell you—also I  
10I loved well those cities, I loved well the stately and rapid river, The men and women I saw were all near to me, Others the same—others who look back on me, 
 because I looked forward to them,
(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and  
  [ begin page 383 ]ppp.01500.391.jpg 11What is it, then, between us? What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years  
 between us?
12Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and  
 place avails not.
13I too lived, (I was of old Brooklyn,) I too walked the streets of Manhattan Island, and  
 bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within  
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they  
 came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my  
 bed, they came upon me.
14I too had been struck from the float forever held in  
I too had received identity by my body, That I was, I knew was of my body—and what I  
 should be, I knew I should be of my body.
15It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, The dark threw patches down upon me also, The best I had done seemed to me blank and sus- 
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not  
 in reality meagre? would not people laugh  
 at me?
16It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil, I am he who knew what it was to be evil,   [ begin page 384 ]ppp.01500.392.jpg I too knitted the old knot of contrariety, Blabbed, blushed, resented, lied, stole, grudged, Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak, Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, 
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me, The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous  
 wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, 
 none of these wanting.
17But I was a Manhattanese, free, friendly, and proud I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices  
 of young men as they saw me approaching or  
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the neg- 
 ligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or pub- 
 lic assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laugh- 
 ing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or  
The same old rôle, the rôle that is what we make it, 
 as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and  
18Closer yet I approach you, What thought you have of me, I had as much of you  
 —I laid in my stores in advance,
I considered long and seriously of you before you  
 were born.
  [ begin page 385 ]ppp.01500.393.jpg 19Who was to know what should come home to me? Who knows but I am enjoying this? Who knows but I am as good as looking at you now, 
 for all you cannot see me?
20It is not you alone, nor I alone, Not a few races, nor a few generations, nor a few  
It is that each came, or comes, or shall come, from its  
 due emission, without fail, either now, or then, or  
21Every thing indicates—the smallest does, and the  
 largest does,
A necessary film envelops all, and envelops the Soul  
 for a proper time.
22Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately  
 and admirable to me than my mast-hemm'd Man- 
My river and sun-set, and my scallop-edged waves of  
The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in  
 the twilight, and the belated lighter;
Curious what Gods can exceed these that clasp me  
 by the hand, and with voices I love call me  
 promptly and loudly by my nighest name as I  
Curious what is more subtle than this which ties me  
 to the woman or man that looks in my face,
Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning  
 into you.
33   [ begin page 386 ]ppp.01500.394.jpg 23We understand, then, do we not? What I promised without mentioning it, have you not  
What the study could not teach—what the preaching  
 could not accomplish is accomplished, is it not?
What the push of reading could not start is started by  
 me personally, is it not?
24Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with  
 the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edged waves! Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! drench with your  
 splendor me, or the men and women generations  
 after me;
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of pas- 
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up, 
 beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Bully for you! you proud, friendly, free Manhat- 
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions  
 and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solu- 
Blab, blush, lie, steal, you or I or any one after us! Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, 
 or public assembly!
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically  
 call me by my nighest name!
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the  
 actor or actress!
Play the old rôle, the rôle that is great or small, 
 according as one makes it!
  [ begin page 387 ]ppp.01500.395.jpg Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in  
 unknown ways be looking upon you;
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean  
 idly, yet haste with the hasting current;
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;
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my  
 head, or any one's head, in the sun-lit water;
Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, 
 white-sailed schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lowered at  
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black  
 shadows at nightfall! cast red and yellow light  
 over the tops of the houses;
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you  
You necessary film, continue to envelop the Soul; About my body for me, and your body for you, be  
 hung our divinest aromas;
Thrive, cities! bring your freight, bring your shows, 
 ample and sufficient rivers;
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more  
Keep your places, objects than which none else is  
 more lasting.
25We descend upon you and all things—we arrest you  
We realize the Soul only by you, you faithful solids  
 and fluids,
  [ begin page 388 ]ppp.01500.396.jpg Through you color, form, location, sublimity, ideality, Through you every proof, comparison, and all the  
 suggestions and determinations of ourselves.
26You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beauti- 
 ful ministers! you novices!
We receive you with free sense at last, and are  
 insatiate henceforward,
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or with- 
 hold yourselves from us,
We use you, and do not cast you aside—we plant  
 you permanently within us,
We fathom you not—we love you—there is per- 
 fection in you also,
You furnish your parts toward eternity, Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the  
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