W Walt Whitman

On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman

‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ by Walt Whitman is a powerful poem. In it, Whitman discusses how everything that has ever existed or will ever exist is connected.

The poet uses clear and easy-to-understand language throughout ‘On the Beach at Night Alone,’ ensuring that readers aren’t going to get caught up in his diction or syntax. He wants to make a statement about reality, the future, and the past that everyone can understand.

‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ declares, without reservation, that “you,” the reader, the writer, and every person, thing, and form that’s ever existed are part of the same interlocked/related reality. This is something, the speaker alludes, that should be celebrated.

On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman

On the beach at night alone,

As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,

As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.



A vast similitude interlocks all,

All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,

All distances of place however wide,

All distances of time, all inanimate forms,

All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,

All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,

All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,

All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe,

All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,

This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,

And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman


Summary

‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ by Walt Whitman is a beautiful, short poem about how all things are connected throughout time.

The poem starts with the speaker placing himself on the beach, considering the stars. They inspire him to think about the broader universe, and how connected all spheres, places, forms, and structures are. These things, no matter how far out of humanity’s reach, are part of existence in the same way human beings are. All life, civilizations, languages, and peoples are part of the same similitude as well. This is a unifying message, one that should be uplifting and inspiring.

Themes

Throughout ‘On the Beach at Night Alone,’ Whitman engages with themes of life, time, and existence. His poetry clearly and directly addresses these themes, noting how powerfully all living and non-living things are connected to one another. Someone’s existence is elevated for the simple fact that they, like all other things, are connected to the broader, interlocking universe. A single person on the beach alone at night is related to all the spheres of space. The planets, stars, and forms beyond human imagining are all part of the same existence.

Structure and Form

‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ by Walt Whitman is a two-stanza, fourteen-line poem. The first stanza has three lines, and the second has eleven. They vary greatly in length and do not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. This means the poem is written in free verse. Anyone who is familiar with Whitman’s poetry won’t be surprised by this feature. He is generally regarded as the “father” of free verse poetry, pioneering it in the minds of most writers.

Literary Devices

Throughout ‘‘On the Beach at Night Alone,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:

  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “think” and “thought” in line three of the first stanza and “bodies” and “be” in line five of the second stanza.
  • Imagery: occurs when the writer uses especially interesting and memorable descriptions. These are meant to appeal to the reader’s senses. For example, “gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes” and “souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds.”
  • Anaphora: occurs when the same word or phrase is used at the beginning of multiple lines. I this case, eight of the eleven lines in the second stanza start with “All.” This is a technique that’s often found in Whitman’s work.


Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

On the beach at night alone,

As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,

As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.

In the first lines of ‘On the Beach at Night Alone,’ the speaker begins by using the line that later came to be used as the title. This was often the case with Whitman’s poetry. He sets the scene, describing the beach and how he’s there, along with “the old mother” who is singing her “husky song.” The words “old” and “husky” suggest that this is an older woman, not someone who is currently caring for children. It is the first symbol of the passage of time and the birth of new generations.

The speaker describes watching the “bright stars shining” and thinking about the “clef of the universes and of the future.” He’s thinking about where everything began, as in a piece of music. This is an expansive topic but one that makes sense to dwell on in such a moment.

Stanza Two

Lines 1-5

A vast similitude interlocks all,

All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,

All distances of place however wide,

All distances of time, all inanimate forms,

All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,

In the next five lines, the speaker notes how there is a “similitude” that “interlocks” or connects “all.” There is a state of similarity that connects all things that have ever existed and will ever exist, living and dead.

The next eight lines use “All” at the beginning. This is a way of emphasizing how all-encompassing the interlocking and “similitude” really is. All the spheres of the universe are connected, as are all the “places however wide” or small. The distance, shape, form, or location don’t matter. Each thing is locked together. He also notes that “all inanimate forms” are also connected. Just because something is not human or not traditionally alive doesn’t mean it isn’t connected to the broader universe.

All souls, the speaker goes on to say, “all living bodies” even when they’re “ever so different” or are in “different worlds” are also “interlock[ed].” This beautiful statement reminds those reading that there are very few things that separate one person from another and many more that connect humanity and all other living things.

Lines 6-11

All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,

All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,

All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe,

All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,

This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,

And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

In the next lines, the speaker adds in “gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,” noting that they are connected. Rather than speaking broadly about the universe and spheres, he now brings the language to earth and specifically mentions “civilizations” and “languages.” Everyone who has ever lived or will ever live is connected.

The poem concludes with the speaker using the word “similitude” again. Noting that it has always “span[ned]” existence and always will. It will “compactly hold and enclose them.” This is his way of stating that no matter how our personal lives change, how people relate to one another, or the broader state the world is in, we are always going to be connected to one another. These are thoughts best had when one is alone on the beach, considering the universe with clarity.

FAQs

What is the tone of ‘On the Beach at Night Alone?’

The tone is thoughtful and strong. The speaker is confident in his declarations. He does not hesitate before stating these lines as the truth.

What is the meaning of ‘On the Beach at Night Alone?’

The meaning is that all things that have ever existed and will ever exist, living or dead, are all interlocked in the same similitude. There is a similarity that connects everything throughout time.

Why did Whitman write ‘On the Beach at Night Alone?’

Whitman wrote ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ as a way of exploring the interconnectivity of all living and non-living things. He wanted to present a message of unity that was impossible to break out of. The idea of similitude is at the heart of it.

Who is the speaker in ‘On the Beach at Night Alone?’

The speaker is someone who is capable of thoughtfully contemplating the natural world and how all things are connected. It’s possible that the speaker is meant to be Whitman himself, but since there is no clear declaration of this fact, it’s impossible to stay for sure.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ should also consider reading other Walt Whitman poems. For example:

  • Song of the Open Road’ – describes a trip the speaker takes in order to learn about himself and enjoy the journey to an unnamed destination.
  • When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer’ – depicts Whitman’s preference for a naturalistic view of the world over an analytical one.
  • I Sing the Body Electric’ – explores various parts of the human body with its function as a whole and as an individual part.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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