Whitman’s New York

Throughout Whitman’s poetry, it is evident how much he loves and feels connected to the city of New York, often referring to it as a crucial aspect of his entire being. One instance of this is in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” with lines like “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” (308). He observes the people, the landscape the buildings, the energy and every other detail he can manage to absorb. Although these observations range from broad to specific, the point he’s making is universal; not only is he relating to the millions of people who call New York home, he’s relating to everyone in the world who loves where they live, by capturing the feeling of profound attachment we have to the places we live. Whitman seems to believe (and I agree) that places affect our lives so significantly that they inevitably become a part of who we are.

Showing the comradery the people of New York feel with Whitman, journalist Roberta Smith writes in her article “Cascades, Sing the City Electric“: “When Whitman crossed the East River on the Brooklyn Ferry, the sheer ecstasy of the trip made him see the future. It was us, the coming generations of urban dwellers who would draw the same energy he did from his wonderful town and its waterways.”

In this vein, I came across this amazing art exhibit that I think would make Whitman proud. Icelandic installation artist Olafur Elissaon created “The New York Waterfalls,” which can be seen off the coasts of Manhattan, Governors Island, and at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. I am in love with this tribute to Whitman, and agree with Smith that these gorgeous waterfalls help us gain a sense of “Whitman’s lost paradise.” See the entire gallery here.

Side note: I first became familiar with Olafur Elissaon last year in Chicago where I saw his Take Your Time exhibit, which is equally amazing.

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