In following line by Walt Whitman there are two nautical terms.

The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm,

After searching I can say that "king-pin" could be a main handle in a wheel of a ship. And by "heave down" the poet means "pull down". I couldn't find "king-pin" in any dictionary, even nautical dictionaries. But some dictionaries say "heave down" means:

to careen (a ship) usually for repairs or cleaning

But I think "heave down" didn't applied here in this meaning.

So is there any marine man who would know these terms and help me?

(Don't ask for more context. Because every line in this stanza is an independent description and doesn't relate to other lines. All you have to realize the meaning of these two nautical terms is this line.)

1 Answer 1


John Rogers, Origins of Sea Terms (1984) has this entry for "king spoke," which I take to be essentially the same entity as "king-pin" in Whitman's poem:

King Spoke (also King Peg) The spoke on a ship's wheel which, when upright, indicates that the rudder is amidships, or in line with the keel. It very likely was so called because it often was identified and decorated with a crown or other regal emblem, honoring the monarch. Nowadays it is marked by a simple ornament, perhaps a turkshead or a metal cap.

Normally, according to Rogers, to "heave" means to pull on a line (rope, cable, hawser, or the like):

Heave To pull on a line (e[arly] XVII [century;] p[robably] e[arlier])

But Whitman may not have felt constrained by standard nautical usage in this instance. In any event, it seems to me that Whitman is simply saying that the pilot has grasped the (normally) vertical spoke (or peg or pin) on the ship's (or boat's) wheel and then directed it it downward (clockwise or counterclockwise) to cause the vessel to change course.

  • That is exactly what I guessed. Thanks. May 23, 2020 at 23:18

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