• 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.
• trinity (line 4)threesome (suggests the
• combs (line 5)waves
• wending (line 10)going
• 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.
• 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.
• 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
• 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
• 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
• Alliteration and assonance are used to
powerfully suggest the various sounds of the
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)
• 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
• 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
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
• 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
• 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.
• 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
• 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
• 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
- 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
- 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!)