Expansive Poetics 32 (Walt Whitman – Crossing Brooklyn Ferry)
AG: So the next one chronologically that I want to take up is Hart Crane, whom we have in our book
[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?
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 [D.P.]: “..The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-houses/The white wake left by the passage..”
Student [D.P.]: …passage/ The quick tremounterous [sic]…
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.
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]