The poem “On The Beach at Night” was written in 1856, five years before the start of the civil war. Whitman can characterized to be patriotic in this poem as he uses the father in the poem to represent the founding fathers while the child is the new nation- America. Walt Whitman uses different figurative language and techniques like astrological allusions and symbolism to portray the conflict emerging in the new nation and the inevitable resolution. Whitman uses the “inevitable resolution” to guide the new nation and to instill hope into the civilians to get through the hard times that occur. The theme of remaining hopeful is explored through the tension and peace, the action of the father driving away the child’s fears, and the father comforting the child by instilling hope.
Walt Whitman uses Jupiter and Pleiades to represent the tension that arises and the peace that will inevitably follow. As introduced in the poem, “Stands a child, with her father, Watching the east, the autumn sky” (Whitman, lines 2-3). Whitman uses symbolism to imply that the father and child are not actually observing the Pleiades, but instead are observing the nation. The sun rises on the East and in Autumn (the season the poem is taking place), Jupiter and Pleiades rise and fall opposite of the Sun. Therefore, the daughter and father aren’t observing the constellations in the night sky due to improper orientation. Consequently, it adds to the notion that this poem isn’t simply about a father and a daughter. The father and daughter symbolize bigger ideas concerning America. The founding fathers are reassuring the citizens and the country to be hopeful of the future. They aren’t watching the constellations, instead, they are watching the country and the people living on it including the soldiers. Whitman additionally writes “Ascends, large and calm, the lord-star Jupiter… swim the delicate brothers, the Pleiades” (Whitman, lines 8-10). The significance of this quote is it employs astrological and mythological allusions to contrast the occurring situation of America. “Lord-star Jupiter” is the god of sky and thunder, and thunder is usually associated with being an omen or has a negative connotation. In reference to the new nation, the “lord-star Jupiter” is the tension that emerges between the civilians and their beliefs. On the other hand, the Pleiades are a group of stars that can represent the thirteen colonies which were the foundation of the Americas. The thirteen colonies lead the path to the new nation as they demanded representation, freedom from the British rule, and expanded westward and south. Additionally, the Pleiades are considered to be “delicate brothers” insinuating they are weak or fragile which are terms that are associated with the new nation. The theme of remaining hopeful is emerging as Walt Whitman first explores the problems that are present. He is confronting the problems and letting the civilians know that the nation is weak but it will continue to gain strength.
The father comforts the child and drives away her fears by advising her on how to stay optimistic. Encapsulated in lines 11-13 are the child’s fears, “from the beach, the child holding the hand of her father, those burial clouds that lower, victorious, soon to devour all, watching silently weeps” (Whitman, lines 11-13) This quote foreshadows what threatens the new nation and what will eventually bring its downfall. The “burial clouds” as from a funeral scene, bring gloom and can be inferred to be the death of the nation. These burial clouds are soon to devour all which creates the effect of there being a complication and something threatening the freedom of the civilians and democracy. This threat can be seen to be slavery as it impeded the freedom of many individuals, not being able to vote and control their lives. Slavery is the worse thing to happen to mankind and to America. It ultimately led to the civil war as the union and confederacy had differing beliefs on the ideals of slavery. This foreshadowing reinforces the idea that slavery will and was creating problems for the fragile nation. Walt Whitman was cognizant of the fact that these problems were bubbling in public opinion and the child (the nation) was scared of the effect it would create. The father comforts the child in lines 14-16, “Weep not, child, weep not my darling, with these kisses let me remove your tears” (Whitman, lines 14-16). This quote juxtaposes with the first quote as it is more positive. This quote has a loving and affectionate mood and the father advises the child to stop weeping. The term “darling” is very endearing and evokes the feeling of being cared for. This loving mood correlates to the founding fathers as they aided the country in the right footsteps for the wellness of the civilians. The founding fathers are wiping away the child’s tears just as the founding fathers helped solve the problems in the nation by discussing resolutions. All in all, the father is able to comfort the child the same way the founding fathers guided the nation into the right path.
The father instills hope into the child and uses the stars to spark her interests. Captured in line 19, “Jupiter shall emerge- be patient- watch again another night- the Pleiades shall emerge” (Whitman, line 19) is some of the father’s words. Whitman implements diction in the term “Pleiades” as he emphasizes the peacefulness in the Pleiades. Whitman eludicates that with jupiter comes conflict, but the pleaides will shine once again. This diction enforced that goodwill emerge after the bad and encourages the child to remain hopeful that she will see the stars after the clouds clear out. This means that the nation will be able to strive through their difficult times including the civil war that is incoming. The clouds of slavery will need to be solved and once it is resolved, the country will get out of its fragility and excel. Walt Whitman uses the phrase “Shall shine out again” (Whitman, lines 20-22) throughout the ending. The stars that are a beautiful natural phenomenon, will shine out again because it is its nature. Whitman uses repetition to emphasize that just like the stars, the nation will remain. There may be moments where the clouds cover the stars and it seems like there’s no point in return but the stars always come out at one point. The nation will remain and drive through their period of suffering and resistance and will come out stronger together.
Walt Whitman utilized this poem, just as the father did to the child, to instill hope. Walt Whitman instilled hope into the civilians who were concerned with the future of their nation. The new nation was very fragile and new as it had broken free from the British hold and were thrown into political, social, and economic disorder. Even the founding father themselves doubted the strength of the nation as George Washington and James Madison wrote to each other conveying the United States wouldn’t be able to survive with only the Articles of Confederation and without a central government. George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson all came to be known as the founding fathers. The “fathers” who gave essential guidance in the shaping of the nation. They are responsible for the ideas intertwined in the Declaration of Independence and the republican form of government in the United States Constitution. However, their ultimate failure by these founding fathers was their inability to act decisively on the inhumanity of slavery and their inability to establish a policy toward the indigenous inhabitants of the North American continent. Both of these failures led to the tensions described in the poem. In the year 1856, when Walt Whitman wrote “On the Beach at Night,” on January 25th there was the Battle of Seattle where there was a skirmish between settlers Iand Indians. Even more insightful was the event on “Bleeding Kansas” in 1856 and onward which was a civil war in itself between pro and anti-slavery forces. On May 21 in particular, approximately 800 pro-slavery men attacked an anti-slavery community and in response, John Brown went into Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas, and attacked five pro-slavery men in front of their families. All things considered, the founding fathers aided the country into its formation and instilled hope but they weren’t able to solve the tensions that led to the civil war. This poem acts as advice for the civilians, letting them know that the conflict will end, and the stars will shine again.