Presentation on theme: "Patrolling Barnegat Walt Whitman. Wild, wild the storm, and the sea high running Steady the roar of the gale, with incessant undertone muttering, Shouts."— Presentation transcript:
Patrolling Barnegat Walt Whitman
Wild, wild the storm, and the sea high running Steady the roar of the gale, with incessant undertone muttering, Shouts of demoniac laughter fitfully piercing and pealing, Waves, air, midnight, their savagest trinity lashing, Out in the shadows there milk-white combs careering, On beachy slush and sand spirts of snow fierce slanting, Where through the murk the easterly death-wind breasting, Through cutting swirl and spray watchful and firm advancing, (That in the distance! is that a wreck? is the red signal flaring?) Slush and sand of the beach tireless till daylight wending, Steadily, slowly, through hoarse roar never remitting, Along the midnight edge by those milk-white combs careering, A group of dim, weird forms, struggling, the night confronting, That savage trinity warily watching.
The poem is set on a beach on a stormy, wintry night. Someone, presumably the poet, is walking alone along the beach through driving snow, looking out to sea across the wild waves. Through the dark, snow and spray he is not quite sure what he sees - possibly a shipwreck, and a distress signal - then what seems to be a group of walkers, braving the storm. There is a real sense of danger and fear.
Form Most of Whitman's poetry does not conform to any traditional verse form - he generally wrote free verse. However this poem is an exception: it is a sonnet or poem of 14 lines. Sonnets are often associated with love, so it's interesting that Whitman used this form for a poem that contains violence and confusion. He was recording an experience which was intense, vivid and wild - as love can be.
Rhyme Traditionally sonnets have a fairly intricate rhyme scheme. Whitman's sonnet however has just one rhyme throughout - the -ing sound at the end of each line
Language Think about the title. Patrolling gives the impression of a military operation. Do you feel he wanted to suggest that the winter weather, or nature itself, is the enemy? The poem is written in the present tense. This gives us a sense of immediacy: the events are being described to us moment by moment and we feel the uncertainty of the poet as he grapples to make sense of what he sees. This adds to the drama - we don't know what is going to happen.
The whole poem is made up of one long, complex list of images and actions. It is not a complete sentence because there is no main verb - we only have the echoing -ing verbs (known as present participles) that end every line and create a crescendo through the poem. It is hard to breathe as we read it, as we are only allowed the short pauses of commas. It feels as if we are careering along, blown by the storm.
Things are unclear. The fierce weather obscures both sight and sound. We never know whether there really is a wreck out at sea (line 9): is the poet imagining it, or does he actually see a distress signal go up? What are the dim, weird forms (line 13)? The questions he poses are not answered.
Alliteration and assonance are used to powerfully suggest the various sounds of the storm: piercing and pealing (line 3) beachy slush and sand spirts of snow (line 6) swirl and spray savagest... lashing (line 4) death-wind breasting (line 7) hoarse roar (line 11)
Imagery The elements of the storm are all compared to living things, almost personified. This sets an eerie tone: the natural world seems alive and hostile. Look carefully at the comparisons that are made.
The gale seems to be a monster that roars and mutters constantly (line 2), so that the air is full of noise. It is as if something wild (line 1) has been unleashed. Is it the sounds of the gale whipping along the beach that is producing the Shouts of demoniac laughter, or does the sound come from elsewhere? This is scary - demons are associated with the devil, so the suggestion is that the beach is like Hell.
Waves, air, midnight are seen as the savagest trinity (line 4). The three elements work together to create a fearsome, evil atmosphere. In Christianity the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost is an image of God's serene and heavenly power. This savage Trinity, however, is Hellish (echoes of demoniac from the previous line). What this suggests is that the storm is so violent that it threatens to invert the normal, God-given order of things and replace it with a chaotic, devilish Disorder.
The death-wind (line 7) sounds extremely malevolent. Who or what might it kill? In the following line we are told it is advancing, as if it was a squadron of troops approaching a battle, intent on destruction.
What are the vague, nameless dim, weird forms the poet sees struggling in the storm (line 13)? A group of fellow walkers on the beach? Perhaps people attempting a rescue of the shipwrecked sailors? Or a line of rocks along the shore? We do not know...
The savage trinity is referred to again in the final, truncated, line - That savage trinity warily watching. But the grammar here is ambiguous. Are the dim forms watching the savage trinity - or are the trinity themselves doing the watching? If they are, we are left with the disturbing idea that the waves, air and midnight are all-seeing and somehow in control of what is happening. Man - the person patrolling - can do nothing.
Ideas Whitman had a deeply religious attitude to nature. Much of his poetry is a celebration of the creativity of the human soul, which he saw as being mysteriously connected with the endless creativity of the physical world. He saw the ocean as a source of life and energy - the same life and energy that he felt inside himself and tried to express in his writing.
You can see this idea at work in Patrolling Barnegat. The ocean we see in the poem is loud and uncontrollable and frightening. It is also obscure - we can only guess at what we see. But our lives would be the poorer for not experiencing the wild storm. The human spirit, Whitman believed, should also be wild, should always be struggling, the night confronting
Comparisons Hopkins: Inversnaid - Both poems are from a personal viewpoint, but... - Hopkins writes about the beauties of Inversnaid, like the braes dappled with dew, as well as its dangers. - The main danger in Inversnaid is the pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning. Whitman also uses alliteration to highlight dangers (piercing and pealing - Whitman shows the relentlessness of the storm through the lack of full stops - perhaps to suggest that anything fixed and solid (like rules of grammar) are destroyed by the storm. In contrast, Hopkins uses a steadier rhythm, using rhyming couplets to suggest the fast pace of the rushing water.Inversnaid
stealing- Both poems are set on a winter night, but... - Duffy takes on the persona of a thief, while Whitman is writing from personal experience. - In Stealing, the danger is a result of the character's actions, and he seems to enjoy the danger (I joy-ride cars to nowhere). However, in Patrolling Barnegat, the danger is more threatening (that savage trinity). - Stealing ends You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you? as if acknowledging confusion on the part of the reader. Whitman's poem also ends on a confused note - we don't know what the dim, weird forms are, or who is warily watching: there is a sense of unease..
Armitage: Kid - Kid obviously has a very different subject matter, but there is a similar breathless rush to the way the two poems read. There is a kind of storm in the Armitage poem - a storm of rage. - Kid has a similar rhyme-scheme to Barnegat, with a single half-rhyme running through the whole poem - yonder / rather / corner / father... The effect here is of a kind of chanted one-way conversation Unlike Barnegat the Armitage poem does not make much use of sound devices (alliteration and assonance), or detailed description... - instead it deploys a succession of striking word-pictures and references to the Batman comics (Holy robin-redbreast-nest-egg-shocker!)