Self Portrait 43

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry



It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not, 

I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence, 

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 refresh’d, 

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-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d. 

I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old, 

Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies, 

Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow, 

Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south, 

Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water, 

Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams, 

Look’d at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape of my head in the sunlit water, 

Look’d on the haze on the hills southward and south-westward, 

Look’d on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet, 

Look’d toward the lower bay to notice the vessels arriving, 

Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me, 

Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the ships at anchor, 

The sailors at work in the rigging or out astride the spars, 

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 tremulous whirl of the wheels, 

The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset, 

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 storehouses by the docks, 

On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely flank’d 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 night, 

Casting their flicker of black contrasted with wild red and yellow light over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of streets. 


These and all else were to me the same as they are to you, 

I loved well those cities, 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 look’d forward to them, 

(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.) 


What is it then between us? 

What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us? 

Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not, 

I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine, 

I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it, 

I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me, 

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, 

I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution, 

I too had receiv’d 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. 


It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, 

The dark threw its patches down upon me also, 

The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious, 

My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre? 

Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil, 

I am he who knew what it was to be evil, 

I too knitted the old knot of contrariety, 

Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d, 

Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak, 

Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant, 

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, 

Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest, 

Was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing, 

Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat, 

Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word, 

Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping, 

Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress, 

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. 


Closer yet I approach you, 

What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you—I laid in my stores in advance, 

I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born. 

Who was to know what should come home to me? 

Who knows but I am enjoying this? 

Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see me?

Walt Whitman

Published by Wrightaction

Humility-a trait that struggles to find a home in the twenty first century.

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