(Whitman Style Sheet)
daguerrotype from 1st edition Leaves of
self-published when Whitman (1819-92) was 36
Background: Regarded by many critics as Whitman's last great
poem, Passge to India on a personal level describes the opening of an individual
soul to learning the great unknown world.
stands as the USA's great national poet, the poem embodies attitudes Edward
Said characterized in Orientalism (1978) as those symbols and values by
which European (and American) writers represent the Orient (or the
East, in contrast to the West or Occident) as a
benighted Other in need of uplift and
Western Enlightenment, modernization, and economic development. The word "India," as
used in this poem, may stand for "the Orient" or "the East," especially in its
pre-national signification of the Indian Subcontinent.
Written in 1871 following the most expansive era of "Manifest Destiny" (the
extension of the United States from Atlantic to Pacific and potentially beyond) the poem
refers directly to colonial, imperial, or globalizing events whose scale of
accomplishment overwhelms the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:
the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869
the laying of the
completion of the American transcontinental railroad,
Potential associations between Manifest Destiny with Imperialism or
Colonialism are often overlooked because, in contrast to military and administrative colonizations by England or France of countries like
India or Algeria, the United States conquered as a "settler culture"
that permanently replaced Native American Indians instead of simply
dominating and exploiting their labor and resources for a limited time before
The title of Whitman's poem was adapted in 1924 to E.M. Forster's novel A
Passage to India, which depicts with comparable mysticism and ambiguity the
encounter of British colonials with Moslem and Hindu characters
in colonial India.
1. What parts of Whitman's representations are blatantly imperialistic? What
parts open to some more positive dialogue between colonizer and colonized? What
attractions and detractions to Whitman's mystifying or globalizing rhetoric? How
does the narrative of the earth being unified via Western progress become
attractive or threatening?
2. What characteristics of Whitman's style? Or, how can you tell this is a
poem by Walt Whitman? Compare this poem's form as "free
verse" or "formal verse"
with poems by Poe and Dickinson (and other poems by Whitman).
3. If Whitman writes "free
verse" without traditional rhyme and meter, what poetic techniques does he
use that make this poem poetry rather than broken-up prose?
Passage to India
Singing my days,
Singing the great achievements of the present,
Singing the strong light works of
Our modern wonders,
(the antique ponderous Seven outvied,) [7
Wonders of Ancient World]
In the Old World the east the Suez canal,
The New by its mighty railroad
The seas inlaid with
eloquent gentle wires;
first to sound, and ever sound, the cry with thee O soul,
The Past! the Past! the Past!
The Past—the dark
teeming gulf—the sleepers and the shadows!
The past—the infinite greatness of the past!
For what is the present after all but
a growth out of the past?
projectile form'd, impell'd, passing a certain line, still keeps on,
So the present, utterly form'd,
impell'd by the past.)
Passage O soul to India!
Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.
[eclaircise = make clear]
Not you alone
proud truths of the world,
you alone ye facts of modern science,
But myths and fables of eld, Asia's, Africa's fables,
[eld = old]
The far-darting beams of the
spirit, the unloos'd dreams,
The deep diving bibles and legends,
The daring plots of the poets, the elder religions;
O you temples fairer than lilies
pour'd over by the rising sun!
O you fables spurning the known, eluding the hold of the known, mounting to heaven!
You lofty and dazzling towers,
pinnacled, red as roses, burnish'd with gold!
Towers of fables immortal fashion'd from mortal dreams!
You too I welcome and fully the
same as the rest!
You too with
joy I sing.
Passage to India!
Lo, soul, seest thou not God's purpose from the first?
The earth to be spann'd,
connected by network,
races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,
The oceans to be cross'd, the distant brought near,
The lands to be welded together.
new I sing,
voyagers, explorers, yours,
engineers, you architects, machinists, yours,
You, not for trade or transportation only,
But in God's name, and for thy sake O
Passage to India!
Lo soul for thee of tableaus
I see in one the Suez
canal initiated, open'd,
the procession of steamships, the Empress Eugenie's leading the van,
I mark from on deck the strange
landscape, the pure sky, the level sand in the distance,
I pass swiftly the picturesque groups, the workmen
The gigantic dredging
In one again, different, (yet thine, all thine, O soul, the same,)
I see over my own continent the
Pacific railroad surmounting every barrier,
I see continual trains of cars winding along the Platte
carrying freight and
[Platte = river in Nebraska]
I hear the
locomotives rushing and roaring, and the shrill steam-whistle,
I hear the echoes reverberate through
the grandest scenery in the world,
I cross the Laramie plains, I note the rocks in grotesque
shapes, the buttes,
[Laramie = river in Wyoming]
I see the plentiful larkspur and wild
onions, the barren, colorless,
I see in glimpses
afar or towering immediately above me the great mountains, I see the Wind river and the Wahsatch
I see the Monument
mountain and the Eagle's Nest, I pass the Promontory, I ascend the Nevadas,
I scan the noble Elk mountain and wind
around its base,
I see the
Humboldt range, I thread the valley and cross the river,
I see the clear waters of lake Tahoe,
I see forests of majestic pines,
Or crossing the great desert, the alkaline plains, I
behold enchanting mirages of
waters and meadows,
through these and after all, in duplicate slender lines,
Bridging the three or four thousand
miles of land travel,
Eastern to the Western sea,
road between Europe and Asia.
(Ah Genoese thy dream! thy dream!
[Genoese = Columbus]
Centuries after thou art laid in thy
The shore thou foundest
verifies thy dream.)
Passage to India!
Struggles of many a captain, tales of many a sailor dead,
Over my mood stealing and
spreading they come,
clouds and cloudlets in the unreach'd sky.
Along all history, down the slopes,
As a rivulet running, sinking
now, and now again to the surface rising,
A ceaseless thought, a varied train—lo, soul, to thee, thy
sight, they rise,
The plans, the voyages again, the
Again Vasco de
Gama sails forth, [Vasco da Gama: first
European sailor to reach India]
knowledge gain'd, the mariner's compass,
Lands found and nations born, thou born America,
For purpose vast, man's long probation
Thou rondure of the
world at last accomplish'd. [rondure: roundness,
O vast Rondure, swimming in space,
[rondure = roundness; circle or sphere]
Cover'd all over with visible power
Alternate light and
day and the teeming spiritual darkness,
Unspeakable high processions of sun and moon and countless
manifold grass and waters, animals, mountains, trees,
With inscrutable purpose, some hidden
it seems my thought begins to span thee.
Down from the gardens of Asia
Eve appear, then their myriad progeny after them,
Wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
With questionings, baffled,
formless, feverish, with never-happy hearts,
With that sad incessant refrain, Wherefore unsatisfied
Whither O mocking
who shall soothe these feverish children?
Who justify these restless explorations?
Who speak the secret of impassive
Who bind it to us? what
is this separate Nature so unnatural?
What is this earth to our affections? (unloving earth,
without a throb to answer ours,
Cold earth, the place of
Yet soul be sure the first intent remains, and shall be carried out,
Perhaps even now the time has arrived.
seas are all cross'd, (as they seem already cross'd,)
After the great captains and engineers
have accomplish'd their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy
The true son of God
shall come singing his songs.
Then not your deeds only O voyagers, O scientists and
inventors, shall be justified,
All these hearts as of fretted
children shall be sooth'd,
affection shall be fully responded to, the secret shall be told,
All these separations and gaps shall
be taken up and hook'd and
earth, this cold, impassive, voiceless earth, shall be completely justified,
Trinitas divine shall be gloriously
accomplish'd and compacted by
the true son of God, the poet, [Trinitas: Holy Trinity, symbol of multiple as
(He shall indeed pass the straits and conquer the mountains,
He shall double the cape of Good Hope
to some purpose,)
Man shall be disjoin'd and diffused no more,
The true son of God shall absolutely fuse them.
Year at whose
wide-flung door I sing!
the purpose accomplish'd!
of the marriage of continents, climates and oceans!
(No mere doge of Venice now wedding the Adriatic,)
[Venetian leader ritually threw ring into Mediterranean]
I see O year in you the vast
terraqueous globe given and giving all,
[terraqueous: formed of land and water]
Europe to Asia, Africa join'd, and they to the New World,
The lands, geographies, dancing
before you, holding a festival garland,
As brides and bridegrooms hand in hand.
Passage to India!
Cooling airs from Caucasus far,
soothing cradle of man, [Caucasus: Eurasian
river Euphrates flowing, the past lit up again.
[Euphrates: river in present-day Iraq]
Lo soul, the retrospect brought
The old, most
populous, wealthiest of earth's lands,
The streams of the Indus and the Ganges and their many
(I my shores of
America walking to-day behold, resuming all,)
The tale of Alexander on his warlike marches suddenly
On one side China and on
the other side Persia and Arabia,
To the south the great seas and the bay of Bengal,
The flowing literatures, tremendous
epics, religions, castes,
occult Brahma interminably far back, the tender and junior Buddha,
Central and southern empires and all
their belongings, possessors,
The wars of Tamerlane,the reign of Aurungzebe,
The traders, rulers, explorers, Moslems, Venetians,
Byzantium, the Arabs,
The first travelers
famous yet, Marco Polo, Batouta the Moor,
[Ibn Battuta, 14c Berber explorer]
Doubts to be solv'd, the map incognita, blanks to be
The foot of man
unstay'd, the hands never at rest,
Thyself O soul that will not brook a challenge.
navigators rise before me,
world of 1492, with its awaken'd enterprise,
Something swelling in humanity now like the sap of the
earth in spring,
splendor of chivalry declining.
And who art thou sad shade?
Gigantic, visionary, thyself a visionary,
With majestic limbs and pious beaming
Spreading around with
every look of thine a golden world,
Enhuing it with gorgeous hues.
As the chief histrion,
[histrion = actor]
Down to the footlights walks in some
rest I see the Admiral himself,
(History's type of courage, action, faith,)
Behold him sail from Palos leading his
little fleet, [Palos: peninsula in
behold, his return, his great fame,
His misfortunes, calumniators, behold him a prisoner,
Behold his dejection,
(Curious in time I stand, noting the efforts of heroes,
Is the deferment long? bitter
the slander, poverty, death?
Lies the seed unreck'd for centuries in the ground? lo, to God's due occasion,
[unreck'd: unknown, untended]
Uprising in the night, it sprouts, blooms,
And fills the earth with use and
Passage indeed O
soul to primal thought,
lands and seas alone, thy own clear freshness,
The young maturity of brood and bloom,
To realms of budding bibles.
repressless, I with thee and thou with me,
Thy circumnavigation of the world begin,
Of man, the voyage of his mind's
To reason's early
Back, back to
wisdom's birth, to innocent intuitions,
Again with fair creation.
O we can wait no longer,
We too take ship O soul,
Joyous we too launch out on trackless
Fearless for unknown
shores on waves of ecstasy to sail,
Amid the wafting winds, (thou pressing me to thee, I thee
to me, O soul,)
singing our song of God,
Chanting our chant of pleasant exploration.
With laugh and many a kiss,
(Let others deprecate, let others weep
for sin, remorse, humiliation,)
O soul thou pleasest me, I thee.
Ah more than any
priest O soul we too believe in God,
But with the mystery of God we dare not dally.
O soul thou
pleasest me, I thee,
these seas or on the hills, or waking in the night,
Thoughts, silent thoughts, of Time and Space and Death,
like waters flowing,
indeed as through the regions infinite,
Whose air I breathe, whose ripples hear, lave me all over,
Bathe me O God in thee,
mounting to thee,
I and my soul
to range in range of thee.
O Thou transcendent,
Nameless, the fibre and the breath,
Light of the light, shedding forth
universes, thou centre of them,
Thou mightier centre of the true, the good, the loving,
Thou moral, spiritual
fountain—affection's source—thou reservoir,
(O pensive soul of me—O thirst unsatisfied—waitest not
Waitest not haply for us
somewhere there the Comrade perfect?)
Thou pulse—thou motive of the stars, suns, systems,
That, circling, move in order, safe,
shapeless vastnesses of space,
How should I think, how breathe a single breath, how speak, if, out of myself,
I could not launch, to those, superior universes?
Swiftly I shrivel
at the thought of God,
Nature and its wonders, Time and Space and Death,
But that I, turning, call to thee O soul, thou actual Me,
And lo, thou gently masterest
Thou matest Time,
smilest content at Death,
fillest, swellest full the vastnesses of Space.
Greater than stars or suns,
Bounding O soul thou journeyest forth;
What love than thine and ours
could wider amplify?
aspirations, wishes, outvie thine and ours O soul?
What dreams of the ideal? what plans of purity,
cheerful willingness for others' sake to give up all?
For others' sake to suffer all?
Reckoning ahead O
soul, when thou, the time achiev'd,
The seas all cross'd, weather'd the capes, the voyage
frontest God, yieldest, the aim attain'd,
As fill'd with friendship, love complete, the Elder
melts in fondness in his arms.
Passage to more than India!
Are thy wings plumed indeed for such far flights?
O soul, voyagest thou indeed on
voyages like those?
thou on waters such as those?
Soundest below the Sanscrit and the Vedas?
Then have thy bent unleash'd.
Passage to you, your shores, ye aged
Passage to you,
to mastership of you, ye strangling problems!
You, strew'd with the wrecks of skeletons, that, living,
never reach'd you.
Passage to more than India!
O secret of the earth and sky!
Of you O waters of the sea! O winding creeks and rivers!
Of you O woods and fields! of
you strong mountains of my land!
Of you O prairies! of you gray rocks!
O morning red! O clouds! O rain and
O day and night, passage
sun and moon and all you stars! Sirius and Jupiter!
Passage to you!
Passage, immediate passage! the blood
burns in my veins!
Away O soul!
hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
[hawsers = tow-lines for ships]
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long
Have we not grovel'd
here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken'd and dazed
ourselves with books long enough?
Sail forth—steer for the deep waters
Reckless O soul,
exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship,
ourselves and all.
O my brave soul!
O farther farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther
poem gratefully adapted from