The Seagult By Walt Whitman

Submitted By bossman-bm
Words: 1246
Pages: 5

He gives equal weight to both natural and manmade images in this section, noticing the “numberless masts of ships” as well as “the swift current.” Whitman writes of “The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme.” The repetitive phrasing in this poem is an enactment of the poem’s subject matter (e.g. crossing back and forth). Each individual on the ferry, but also in the past, present and future of Whitman’s world, as well as each disparate image, is at once completely separated and joined to a greater purpose, what he comes to call later “the soul.” The ferry journey at the close of day brings to mind Charon carrying his passengers across the River Styx; though this is not a poem only about mortality, this layer of image and myth lends weight and gravity to the very real and very commonplace experience of the daily journey home.

It is in the third section that the first of two central images of the poem are established, the seagulls:

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,...

This is one of several “split” images in the poem representing both the speaker and the crowds from whom he feels distanced. Like the seagulls, the speaker himself is split, somehow between the past and the future (living in his own time, but apparently able to imagine the future), and is neither in Manhattan or Brooklyn, but between the two, both distanced from the world around him and inside it. Throughout the poem, he will refer to shadows as the “dark patches” that have fallen upon him, comforting us that “It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall.” For Whitman, the light is purity and the dark is weakness. While much of the poem is a celebration of beauty, he berates himself for having “Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d / Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dare not speak.” The rhythm of these lines is quicker than the pace of the rest of the poems, with continual, unrelenting stresses, lending the lines a sense of authentic and painful passion and regret. It is not that the seagull he sees is either “bright” or “dark” but equally both, two opposites existing in one body, a contradiction.

The second central image of the poem is that of the speaker leaning over the edge of the boat with the sun behind his head and, seeing spokes of light surrounding his face, imagining that another passenger, endless numbers of other passengers, will someday look into the water and see the same thing. “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 centrifugul spokes of light round the shape of my head in the sunlit water.” By the end of the poem, he treats this image rather differently: “Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or anyone’s head, in the sunlit water.” Throughout this poem, the speaker becomes somewhat casual about physical identity and ownership of a particular body. If he claims that we will see what he sees, then we must, in some sense, be the same person—so that ultimately it doesn’t matter whose head he sees there in the water. The circle in the water is his head, the reader’s head, and the sun itself at the same time, and so the experience of looking into the water is both great and small. Because he is describing such a particular angle, no onlooker would be able to see what he saw, but at the same time, the sun itself might see it, or anyone looking into the water might see it with his own face. The light at his back divides him in two, like the seagulls; his back is dark while his face is lit. There is something about this vision that is disorienting as well. He claims to be “dazzled” by the “shimmering track of beams” as if it is the light