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Title: The Ocean

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 21, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00590

Source: New York Aurora 21 April 1842: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Olivia Haddox, Jason Stacy, Samuel Goggin, and Kevin McMullen




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The Ocean.

It is not easy for a person who has resided only upon the seaboard, to conceive of the feelings which fill the bosom of one, when for the first time he comes in sight of the ocean. How many thousands pass their lives without one glimpse of that glorious "creature," which, next to the canopy above, is the most magnificent object of material creation.

Here is one who has spent the years of childhood, youth, and early manhood in the far off inland districts. The green hills, briar studded crags, and mossy battlements of rock, have echoed with the bellowing of the thunder and the mountain blast, but with the deep, rolling murmur of the ocean, never. He has seen the flowers of the glen nod, and the treetops of the forest wave in the wind, and when the fury of the tempest came, the air filled with mangled branches and stripped off verdure; but never has he seen the ocean "wrought up to madness by the storm," the angry billows leaping up, and in battle array invading the province of the very clouds, or dashing in spent fury upon the trembling rocks. Calmly has he seen the moon throw down her light upon the rural bound, and all things revelling in quiet beauty; but never the moonlight rocked upon the rolling deep, nor the reflected stars rising and falling there, gems upon a mighty bosom swelling with darkness and mystery. Over wide spread fields of green, dotted with copse and mansion, has his eye wandered; but never over a boundless field of brightest blue, variegated only by the sunny sail and sable hull. What, then, can we imagine to be his feelings, as he stands now for the first time upon some lofty sea shore crag, with the boundless expanse before him? His soul must be stirred by its magnificence, and his thoughts take a new and lofter1 flight into regions of beauty and grandeur.

A few days ago we were quietly treading our way among the bales, boxes and crates upon one of the East river quays, when our progress was arrested by a very aged man, who wished to have pointed out to him the different kinds of vessels. He said he had never before seen vessels of any kind, this being the first time he had ever been near the ocean. He had read of the various classes, but had no definite conception on the subject. At first we thought him quizzing, but after being satisfied of his perfect sincerity, endeavored to point out the peculiarities. He soon had no difficulty in recognizing the various denominations—ships, barks, brigs, schooners, sloops, &c.; and as well as our limited nautical attainments would admit of, we endeavored to show the peculiar advantages of the different modes of rigging. The old man seemed much gratified and doubtless will with pleasure, should it ever be our lot to peregrinate in the region of his home, point out to us the peculiarities, virtues, beauties and uses of the various productions of his soil. And that practical knowledge of his is of far greater value than all the fanciful smattering that is usually caught up in the city rounds. A man cannot acquire all knowledge, and therefore it becomes him to direct his attention to the acquisition of that which is of the greatest worth. Teaching a bean to wind up its pole, is more useful, though perhaps not so manly or elegant an employment, as teaching a lap dog to jump.

But we were speaking of the ocean—that eternal fountain of the sublime and mysterious. We love to listen to the deep and ceaseless tones of its music, when the repose of midnight has fallen upon it. There is a sublimity in its angry tossing, when wrought to madness by the assaults and goadings of the storm king. We love to think of the riches, and the lost, that lie beneath its wave, and to carry the thoughts forward to that eventful hour when it must give up its treasures and its dead—when the sands which now form its bounds will melt away with "the fervent heat," and its waves be lost in the ocean of eternity.


Notes:

1. "Loftier" is misspelled in the original issue. [back]


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