Best Poems From
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! 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 meditations, than you might suppose.
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the
The simple, compact, well-join'd 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;
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away; 10
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them;
The certainty of others--the life, love, sight, hearing of others.
Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to
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.
It avails not, neither time or place--distance avails not; 20
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many
I project myself--also I return--I am with you, and know how it is.
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-
stem'd pipes of steamboats, I look'd.
I too many and many a time cross'd the river, the sun half an hour
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, 30
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the
I too 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 around the shape of my
head in the sun-lit water,
Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward,
Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,
Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the arriving ships,
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, 40
The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the
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 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
These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to you; 50
I project myself a moment to tell you--also I return.
I 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 look'd forward
(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
I too lived--Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine; 60
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
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 patches down upon me also;
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious; 70
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality
meagre? would not people laugh at me?
It is not 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
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these
But I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud!
I 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,
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
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.
Closer yet I approach you;
What thought you have of me, I had as much of you--I laid in my
stores in advance; 90
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 but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot
It is not you alone, nor I alone;
Not a few races, nor a few generations, nor a few centuries;
It is that each came, or comes, or shall come, from its due emission,
From the general centre of all, and forming a part of all:
Everything indicates--the smallest does, and the largest does;
A necessary film envelopes all, and envelopes the Soul for a proper
Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to
me than my mast-hemm'd Manhattan,
My river and sun-set, and my scallop-edg'd waves of flood-tide,
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 approach;
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.
We understand, then, do we not?
What I promis'd without mentioning it, have you not accepted?
What the study could not teach--what the preaching could not
accomplish, is accomplish'd, is it not?
What the push of reading could not start, is started by me
personally, is it not? 110
Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg'd waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set! drench with your splendor me, or the
men and women generations after me;
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!--stand up, beautiful hills of
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or public
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or
Play the old role, the role that is great or small, according as one
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
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-sail'd
schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lower'd at sunset;
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at
nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are; 130
You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul;
About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung our divinest
Thrive, cities! bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual;
Keep your places, objects than which none else is more lasting.
We descend upon you and all things--we arrest you all;
We realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids;
Through you color, form, location, sublimity, ideality;
Through you every proof, comparison, and all the suggestions and
determinations of ourselves.
You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers! you
We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves
We use you, and do not cast you aside--we plant you permanently
We fathom you not--we love you--there is perfection in you also;
You furnish your parts toward eternity;
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.
Read more: river poems, women poems, sun poems, water poems, sunset poems, sea poems, alone poems, evil poems, home poems, light poems, identity poems, sky poems, summer poems, swimming poems, red poems, snake poems, dark poems, lust poems, anger poems, woman poems
Aroused and angry,
I thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war;
But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd, and I resign'd
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead.
FIRST, O songs, for a prelude,
Lightly strike on the stretch'd tympanum, pride and joy in my city,
How she led the rest to arms--how she gave the cue,
How at once with lithe limbs, unwaiting a moment, she sprang;
(O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!
O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O truer than
How you sprang! how you threw off the costumes of peace with
How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and fife were heard
in their stead;
How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our prelude, songs of
How Manhattan drum-taps led. 10
Forty years had I in my city seen soldiers parading;
Forty years as a pageant--till unawares, the Lady of this teeming and
Sleepless amid her ships, her houses, her incalculable wealth,
With her million children around her--suddenly,
At dead of night, at news from the south,
Incens'd, struck with clench'd hand the pavement.
A shock electric--the night sustain'd it;
Till with ominous hum, our hive at day-break pour'd out its myriads.
From the houses then, and the workshops, and through all the
Leapt they tumultuous--and lo! Manhattan arming. 20
To the drum-taps prompt,
The young men falling in and arming;
The mechanics arming, (the trowel, the jack-plane, the blacksmith's
hammer, tost aside with precipitation;)
The lawyer leaving his office, and arming--the judge leaving the
The driver deserting his wagon in the street, jumping down, throwing
the reins abruptly down on the horses' backs;
The salesman leaving the store--the boss, book-keeper, porter, all
Squads gather everywhere by common consent, and arm;
The new recruits, even boys--the old men show them how to wear their
accoutrements--they buckle the straps carefully;
Outdoors arming--indoors arming--the flash of the musket-barrels;
The white tents cluster in camps--the arm'd sentries around--the
sunrise cannon, and again at sunset; 30
Arm'd regiments arrive every day, pass through the city, and embark
from the wharves;
(How good they look, as they tramp down to the river, sweaty, with
their guns on their shoulders!
How I love them! how I could hug them, with their brown faces, and
their clothes and knapsacks cover'd with dust!)
The blood of the city up--arm'd! arm'd! the cry everywhere;
The flags flung out from the steeples of churches, and from all the
public buildings and stores;
The tearful parting--the mother kisses her son--the son kisses his
(Loth is the mother to part--yet not a word does she speak to detain
The tumultuous escort--the ranks of policemen preceding, clearing the
The unpent enthusiasm--the wild cheers of the crowd for their
The artillery--the silent cannons, bright as gold, drawn along,
rumble lightly over the stones; 40
(Silent cannons--soon to cease your silence!
Soon, unlimber'd, to begin the red business;)
All the mutter of preparation--all the determin'd arming;
The hospital service--the lint, bandages, and medicines;
The women volunteering for nurses--the work begun for, in earnest--no
mere parade now;
War! an arm'd race is advancing!--the welcome for battle--no turning
War! be it weeks, months, or years--an arm'd race is advancing to
Mannahatta a-march!--and it's O to sing it well!
It's O for a manly life in the camp!
And the sturdy artillery! 50
The guns, bright as gold--the work for giants--to serve well the
Unlimber them! no more, as the past forty years, for salutes for
Put in something else now besides powder and wadding.
And you, Lady of Ships! you Mannahatta!
Old matron of this proud, friendly, turbulent city!
Often in peace and wealth you were pensive, or covertly frown'd amid
all your children;
But now you smile with joy, exulting old Mannahatta!
Read more: city poems, war poems, mother poems, son poems, work poems, children poems, peace poems, joy poems, sunset poems, women poems, pride poems, river poems, music poems, silence poems, smile poems, red poems, soldier poems, spring poems, kiss poems, horse poems
Fast Anchor'd, Eternal, O Love
FAST-ANCHOR'D, eternal, O love! O woman I love!
O bride! O wife! more resistless than I can tell, the thought of you!
--Then separate, as disembodied, or another born,
Ethereal, the last athletic reality, my consolation;
I ascend--I float in the regions of your love, O man,
O sharer of my roving life.
Read more: woman poems, love poems, life poems, women poems
FORMS, qualities, lives, humanity, language, thoughts,
The ones known, and the ones unknown--the ones on the stars,
The stars themselves, some shaped, others unshaped,
Wonders as of those countries--the soil, trees, cities, inhabitants,
whatever they may be,
Splendid suns, the moons and rings, the countless combinations and
Such-like, and as good as such-like, visible here or anywhere, stand
provided for in a handful of space, which I extend my arm and
half enclose with my hand;
That contains the start of each and all--the virtue, the germs of
Read more: star poems, tree poems, city poems