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, 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; I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence; 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 high; 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, I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the south.
Excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
Photograph: Car ferry turning in ice, Detroit River (c.1880-1901).