Sep 25 2010

Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

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How does Walt Whitman connect to the crowd?

Walt Whitman focuses on his connection to the masses on the ferry, as a part of the crowd. He focuses on the sheer number of people and relates it to the vastness of nature, describing scenes from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Part of the Romantic movement, of which he was a pioneer and champion, involved a universal connectedness. Whitman stresses this by using lines such as, “Just as you…”, “I too…”, “[…] between us,” and “It is not you alone.” He relates everything that happens and has happened to him and the rest of the passengers on the ferry using and repeating phrases like this. One line that particularly struck me was, “Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not” (line 59).

It’s really his use of the word “crowd” (which appears five times in the twelve stanzas of the poem) that stresses his connection to the other passengers. As part of a whole, Whitman is focusing on the microcosm of the ferry that translates into humanity, and ultimately, the universe. I particularly enjoy Romantic poetry, and this is a perfect example of Whitman’s expressive verse. He turned a fairly mundane thing, such as going to and from Brooklyn, into a cathartic voyage.

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Sep 25 2010

9/11

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On the morning of 9/11, everything seemed normal. Class was starting. Kids were arriving late. The morning news was about to start. Instead of the usual lunch menu and quotidian happenings of elementary school life, the intercom in our classroom told our teachers told teachers in grade 4 and above to turn on the TV to channel 5.

Something was happening, and it wasn’t our usual morning news.

Watching the television, fixated on what we didn’t know was going on, our teacher left the room to talk to the other 4th grade teachers. We could hear confusion in her voice. This wasn’t normal. This was serious.

Then, I saw an image I would never forget. A plane, flying over the New York City skyline, met the iconic World Trade Center Twin Towers. In a flash, the building’s top half was met with an unfathomably large fireball of unadulterated destruction.

Someone flew a plane into downtown Manhattan.

Something was happening, and it wasn’t our usual morning news.

Our teacher ran back inside and stared in horror at the TV. We asked what was going on, but we were met with, “Shhhhh!” We were told to keep calm, despite the fact that everyone was eerily quiet and plastered to his or her seats.

Minutes later, the fireball of destruction aimed its fury at the second Twin Tower. Then came footage from the streets below. Equally chaotic as what was happening 40 stories above.

In a desperate attempt to normalize this, our teacher tried to take the opportunity to educate us on what a primary source was. Our morning news was a primary source. The footage was a primary source. Do you understand? OK.

She sat back down in her desk chair. I think she was crying.

This was definitely not our usual morning news. But if it wasn’t, what could possibly be going on? It couldn’t possibly be on purpose… could it?

Most people were leaving at the behest of their worried parents. I stayed for the rest of the day and learned a vocabulary word: “awesome” (n) – inspiring wonder or awe.

Later on, I naïvely told my dad that what we saw was “awesome”, because it filled me with awe. He told me not to say that again. My mom ran up to him and asked him how D.C. was, how the Pentagon was, and how all the other buildings were.

Fine, he said, but D.C. is worried and scared.

I was never told the real reason for the events of 9/11 or what was happening that day until the day afterward, when my mom had me stay home. She sat me down and told me what the news outlets thought had happened.

And I still can’t believe it was on purpose.

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