Expansive Poetics – (Walt Whitman – Crossing Brooklyn Ferry)

Fulton Ferry Boat (Brooklyn, New York), July 1890 via The Library of Congress, Washington DC

AG: So the next one chronologically that I want to take up is Hart Crane, whom we have in our book

Hart Crane

Hart Crane (1899-1932)

Incidentally, SS [sic] gave me a good idea. (She) gave me, as a gift, one of these things where she made little stick-out labels and divided the sections into European, American, Greek, German, Russian, Eastern European. That seems to be a good way. I’ll try it out for dividing up the book. I hadn’t thought of that but it sounds like a good idea)>

We’re going to get to Hart Crane (who’s under the American section) – see what year he is?
Student: 1899
AG: 1899, ok..
Student: (Born July 21, 1899).
AG:  After (William Carlos) Williams [William Carlos Williams was born in 1883]
Student: Oh, before Thomas Wolfe! [Thomas Wolfe was born in 1900]
AG: Before Wolfe
Student: Yes, it’s right before Thomas Wolfe..and  (right) after..(Williams)..

AG: Okay, now there are two things in Crane. The section of Crane from “The River” – well, let’s see. The reference in Whitman for Crane would actually be “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”.. How many know that? How many here have read (Walt) Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”?  [Allen observes a disappointing show of hands] – Ah, well, I think, maybe we should do that then, because that relates to Crane. We’ve got enough time.
“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ is (on) page 127

Student: It’s in here? [pointing to the book]

AG: Yeah, page 127 in there. I actually did my homework and looked it all up last night. I actually prepared all this as a scheme

Student [to Allen]: We’re about a couple of minutes away from the end of this tape.

AG: Okay. Is there anybody here who’s good at reading? Is there anybody who would like to read? – (to Student [D.P.]) Could you? Could you read it. Straight ?

Student (D.P.): Read what?

AG: (Whitman’s) “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

Student (D.P.) Um..

AG: Would you like to try?

Student (D.P.): Yeah, sure, I could do it.. (but).. I don’t know [Student, it transpires, has a serious problem with stuttering (altho’ in his reading of Whitman’s poem, manages to triumphantly transcend this disability and gives an increasingly assured rendition]

Whitman 1819-1892

AG: Try it straight, you know. Please, I just want to get it. You’ve read it before?

Student(D.P.): No, not that I know of.

AG: Oh well, let me see.

Student (D.P.): Don’t worry about it, I’ll just read it.

AG: Okay. It’s about five pages. Do the first part and then we’ll turn it on around.

Student: (D.P.) Yeah. [Student[D.P.] begins reading] – “Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!/ Clouds of the west – sun there half an hour high – I see you also face to 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..”

Whitman’s first published version of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” in the 1856 second edition of Leaves of Grass, under the title “Sun-Down Poem” (opening page)

AG: Yeah, go on. It sounds right

Student(D.P.) [continuing reading] – “..The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,/The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme..” – Shall I continue?

AG: Yeah. For a while.

Student (D.P.): I’m going to start to stutter.

AG: Yeah, well, until you stutter. The first stutter you take, I’ll take it away

Student (D.P.):  Alright – [Student [D.P.] continues reading] – “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..”..[Student continues reading until the end of the tape]..”Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shor 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./ 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 living crowd,/Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, so 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…”

tape ends here – then  continues 

“..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…

AG: Can I have the book?…? May I have a book?  A book. Whitman. Whitman.

Student (D.P.): “..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 abroad 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..”

Peter Orlovsky (sitting in on the class): A serpentine what?

Student: Pennants
AG: Pennants

Student (D.P.): “..The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-houses/The white wake left by the passage..”

AG: Passage

Student (D.P.):  …passage/ The quick tremounterous [sic]…

AG: Tremulous

Student (D.P.):  …tremulous whirl of the wheels…

AG: “Quick tremulous” – “The quick tremulous whirl..”

Student (D.P.): “..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 laddeled [sic] cup…”

AG: “Ladeled cup”

Student (D.P.): Lathened [sic] cup

AG: “Ladeled cups”

Student (D.P.): Do I have to continue?

AG: Just to the end. (end of section three). Another five lines.

Student(s): Go go go!

AG: Only five lines.

Student(s): Go!

AG: Five more lines, six more lines

Student (D.P.):  “..the scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups,/ the frolicsome crests and glistening,/The  stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the grey 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….”

AG: Right. Okay. (So) the key that will come to.. that will bring us to Hart Crane is – “Others 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” – Well, Hart Crane is “fifty years hence” from this poem, I think. That was the key part I wanted to point out in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”.

[Audio for the above is available here, starting at approximately fifty-five minutes in sixty-seven-and-a-half minutes in]

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