‘Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd’ by Walt Whitman is a two stanza poem that is separated into one set of five lines and another set of eight. The first stanza contains the relayed words of a dying lover while the second contains the speaker’s own response and reassurances. As is common within Whitman’s poetry, the poem does not contain a rhyme scheme. It is written in free verse with no pattern of rhyme or meter.
This does not mean the poem does not have unifying elements though. For instance, a reader should take note of the repetition of starting words in the stanzas, a technique known as anaphora. In the first stanza Whitman uses “For” to begin the last two lines. Alliteration appears throughout the lines as well, with examples such as “Behold” and “Be” in the second stanza. Additionally, there are a great number of pronouns and possessive pronouns used in the text.
In the first stanza, “you” is used five times and “I” seven times. The same can be said for the second stanza in which “you,” “we” and “my” appear frequently. This speaks to the personal nature of the poem. It is focused on a very specific relationship.
Summary of Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd
The poem begins with the dying lover describing a great happiness towards the end of their life. This first speaker says that they could not die until they saw their lover for the last time. They found one another again against all odds. It makes them both very happy that they are able to look and touch one another one more time. This person was seeking reassurance that the two will be able to find one another after they die.
In the second stanza the speaker replies to these words. He does provide the reassures this person was seeking. His words are calming and confident. He knows that if they are separated at this point in life, that the great “rondure” will push them together again. They are a part of the circular cycle of life and death and this is nothing to be afraid of.
Analysis of Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd
Out of the rolling ocean, the crowd, came a drop gently to me,
Whispering I love you, before long I die,
The first stanza of ‘Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd’ begins with the speaker describing the setting in which he and his lover, the person to whom this piece is mostly directed, are located. The two of them, along with everyone else on the planet, are part of the “rolling ocean.” The ocean stands in as a metaphor for the larger chaos of the world. It is the body in which all life exists in and struggles through.
The second part of the first line describes the listener, (the speaker’s lover), as a “drop” that came “gently to” him. This person is one speck in the entire ocean and they were able to find him. This speaks to the power the speaker places on the love the two share. They were able to find one another in amongst the crowded waters. In the second line the speaker says that thy were reunited with their dying lover, and that this person came to them “Whispering I love you.” They came at this particular moment because they believe “before long” they’re going to die.
There are no additional details regarding why this might be the case or who exactly this person is. The presence of death adds another element of pressure to the telling. It makes every word and action seem more important as it may be occurring for the last time.
I have travel’d a long way, merely to look on you to touch you,
For I could not die till I once look’d on you,
For I fear’d I might afterward lose you.
In the third line of ‘Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd’ tells of how the dying lover came from a long way “merely to look on you to touch you.” This person did not expect much from the narrator of the poem. It was only his presence they were looking for. Again, this leads one to believe that the love the two shared is quite powerful.
This person has traveled the “long way” because they knew they could not die until they saw the narrator one last time. A few moments together would allow the dying lover to move into the afterlife more peacefully. This is in part due to this person’s fear that death would separate them permanently. The ocean through which they found one another is now set to separate them once more.
Now we have met, we have look’d, we are safe,
Return in peace to the ocean my love,
I too am part of that ocean, my love, we are not so much separated,
Behold the great rondure, the cohesion of all, how perfect!
But as for me, for you, the irresistible sea is to separate us,
As for an hour carrying us diverse, yet cannot carry us diverse forever;
Be not impatient—a little space—know you I salute the air, the ocean and the land,
Every day at sundown for your dear sake my love.
The second stanza of ‘Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd’ contains the response. This new speaker seeks to calm his lover and assure them that death is not going to separate, or end, their love. The fact that they have been able to come together again, proves that they “are safe.” The lover has nothing to fear, if death is indeed truly approaching.
In the next line the speaker tells his lover that they are free to return to the “ocean.” They should seek out whatever peace is possible and take comfort in the fact that the narrator is “too…part of that ocean.” He speaks these words in order to calm his lover and make sure they know there is no real separation between them.
The fourth line contains an exclamation in which the speaker asks his listener to “Behold the great rondure,” and take note of how “perfect!” it is. This is likely a reference to the earth and the circle of life. Rondure refers to a gracefully circular object and it is clear the speaker sees life and death in this way. He does not fear what comes next as it is all part of the overall ocean of existence.
He continues on to acknowledge the fact that the sea will, to a small extent, separate them. This will not last forever though. It will “carry” them “diverse,” or in different directions, on different paths, but not “forever.”
In the last two lines he asks his dying lover to “Be not impatient.” They should not mourn over the “little space” that will come between them. The lover should think at the moment of every “sundown” that the speaker is “salut[ing] the air, the ocean and the land” for his lover. He is looking out over the world and remembering who this person is/was and what they will have together in another life.