Passage to India Summary

Passage to India Summary



An Introduction to Walt Whitman:

 Walt Whitman, in full Walter Whitman, (born May 31, 1819, West Hills, Long Island, New York, U.S. – died March 26, 1892, Camden, New Jersey), American poet, journalist, and essayist whose verse collection Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, is a landmark in the history of American literature.

Whitman continued practicing his new style of writing in his private notebooks, and in 1856 the second edition of Leaves of Grass appeared. This collection contained revisions of the poems of the first edition and a new one, the “Sun-down Poem” (later to become “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”). The second edition was also a financial failure, and once again Whitman edited a daily newspaper, the Brooklyn Times, but was unemployed by the summer of 1859. In 1860 a Boston publisher brought out the third edition of Leaves of Grass, greatly enlarged and rearranged, but the outbreak of the American Civil War bankrupted the firm. The 1860 volume contained the “Calamus” poems, which record a personal crisis of some intensity in Whitman’s life, an apparent homosexual love affair (whether imagined or real is unknown), and “Premonition” (later entitled “Starting from Paumanok”), which records the violent emotions that often drained the poet’s strength. “A Word out of the Sea” (later entitled “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking’) evoked some sombre feelings, as did “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” “Chants Democratic,” “Enfans d’Adam,” “Messenger Leaves,” and “Thoughts” were more in the poet’s earlier vein.

An Introduction to Passage to India:

The 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass contained nine poems classified as Inscriptions; the 1881 edition contained twentyfour such poems, including two long ones, “Starting from Paumanok” and “Song of Myself.”

The Inscriptions are dedicatory poems and form a preface to the main body of Leaves of Grass. This group of poems does not, however, indicate any wellthought-out plan or organization – it seems, rather, an improvised prologue, – . The themes are diverse, the symbolism is varied, and the only thing which really holds the group together is the poet’s clear intention to provide a prologue. The lack of unity in theme and the general lack of close-knit organization is partly due to Whitman’s continual reclassification of his poems. Some of the poems in Inscriptions were at first included with other sections of Leaves.

The arrangement of the poems in Inscriptions does, however, suggest the general arrangement of Leaves of Grass, a natural biographical sequence in which the early poems deal with youth and the later ones with old age and approaching death.


The Paraphrase of Passage to India:

 I sing my days, I sing the great achievements of the present, I sing the strong, light works of engineers, about our modern wonders, (surpassing the ancient Seven Wonders of the World). In the Old World, the east, the Suez canal, the New by its mighty railroad spanned, the seas inlaid with eloquent, cry, with gentle wires (of telecommunication), I voice, to commence, the O soul, the Past! the Past! the Past! The Past! the dark, unfathomed retrospect! The lashing down gulf! the sleepers and the shadows! The past! I sing the infinite greatness of the past! For, after all, what is the present but a growth ot of the past? (As a projectile, formed. impelled, passing a certain line, still keeps on, so the present, utterly formed, propelled by the past.)


O soul, Passage to India! Clarifying the Asiatic myths-the primitive fables. You are alone the proud truth of the world! Nor you alone, you facts of modern science! But myths and fables are eld (antiquity)-fables of Asia and Africa! They are far-darting beams of the spirit, the unloosed dreams! The deep diving bibles and legends; the darings plots of the poets-the elder religions; -O you temples fairer than lilies, poured over rising sun! O you fables, spurning the known, avoiding the hold of the known, mounting to heaven! You lofty and dazzling towers, pinnacled, red as roses, burnished with gold! Towers of immortal fables, fashioned from mortal dreams! You too I welcome, and fully, the same as the rest; I sing you too with joy.

Passage to India! Look, soul! Don’t you see God’s purpose from the first? It was His purpose that the earth to be spanned, connected by network, the races, neibours, to marry and be given in marriage, the oceans to be crossed, the distant be brought near, the lands to be welded together. (I sing, a worship new; You captains, voyagers, explorers, I sing of yours. You engineers, you architects, machinists, I sing of yours. I sing of you, not for trade or transportation only, but in God’s name, and for your sake, o soul.)

It’s passage to India. Look, soul, for you, of tableaus twain, I see, in one, the Suex cannalinitiated and opened, I see the procession of steamships, the Empress Eugenie’s leading van; I notice, from on deck, the strange landscape, the pure sky, the level sand in the distance; I pass swiftly the picaresque groups, the gathered workmen, the gigantic machines. Again, in a different one, (yet, yours, all yours, O soul, the thing is same) I see over my own continent, the PacificRailroad, surm mounting every barrier; I see continual trains of cars winding along the Platte, carrying cargo and passengers; I hear the locomotives rushing and roaring, and 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 misproportioned shapes the buttes (an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top); I see the abundant larkspur (an annual Mediterranean plant of the buttercup family) and wild onions-the barren, colourless, sgedeserts. I see in glimpses afar, or towering immediately above me, the great mountains-I see the Wind River and Wahsatch mountains; I see the Monuments mountain and the Eagle’s Nest-I pass the Promontory (a point of high land – that juts out into the sea or a large lake) – I ascend the Nevadas; I survey the nobleElk 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 witness enchanting mirages of waters and meadows; noticing through these, and after all, in duplicate slender lines (railroads), bridging the three or four thousand miles of land travel, tying the Eastern to the Western sea, the road between Europe and Asia. (Ah Genoese (Christopher Columbus, a Genoese citizen], Your dream! Your dream! Centuries after you were laid in your grave, the shore you had discovered [discovery of America by Christopher Columbus), proves your dream true!)

A Summary of Passage to India :


Whitman was greatly impressed by three great engineering achievements: the opening of the Suez Canal (1869), the laying of the transatlantic undersea cable (1866), and the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at Utah to produce the nation’s first transcontinental railway (1869). These events resulted in improved communication and travel, thus making possible a shorter passage to India. But in Whitman’s poem, the completion of the physical journey to India is only a prelude to the spiritual pathway to India, the East, and, ultimately, to God. In section 1, the poet celebrates his time, singing of “the great achievements of the present,” and listing “our modern wonders”:


Canal, the building of the great American railroad, and the laying of the transatlantic cable. Yet these achievements of the present have grown out of the past, “the dark unfathom’d retrospect.” If the present is great, the past is greater because, like a projectile, the present is “impell’d by the past.”

Here Whitman presents the world of physical reality, an antecedent to the world of spiritual reality. The essential idea in emphasizing the three engineering marvels is to indicate man’s progress in terms of space. The space-time relationship is at the heart of the matter. The present is significant, but it is only an extension of the past and, therefore, its glories can be traced to times before. Man has mastered space, but he must enrich his spiritual heritage by evoking his past. His achievement in space will remain inadequate unless it is matched, or even surpassed, by his achievement in time and his spiritual values.

The second section begins with a description of the speaker’s envisioned passage to India. This trip is enhanced by the speaker’s assumptions of what the “Asiatic” will be like. He is well read in it’s “fables.”

This stanza is used to make sure the reader understands that the passage that the narrator is undertaking is one that is illuminated by the modern marvels of the world as well as the ancient legends and stories. It is equally important to recognize the “far-darting beams of the spirit” and the “deep diving bibles and legends” These stories of the East provide one with a spiritual guide on one’s travels. They are as necessary “as the rest.”

These stories, just like the physical sights the narrator will see, are beautiful. They are of “temples fairer than lilies” that are washed by the “rising sun” and of “dazzling towers, pinnacled, red as roses, burnish’d with gold!”

In the section-3, the speaker is asking the reader, and his own soul, whether it is understood that God’s purpose is in the connections the world is making. It is part of his plan that “The earth…be spann’d” and that “people…become brothers and sisters.” He wants all types of people to intermingle, marry, and become neighbors. The oceans are meant to be “cross’d [and] the distant brought near / the lands to be welded together.”

In the joyous song and poem that the speaker is singing he “worships” the creators and “voyagers” who made these technological marvels a reality. He worships them for their works and for the way in which they have helped to complete God’s plan.

Man’s achievements in communications are shown in the portrayal of “tableaus twain” in section 4. The first tableau, or picture, is the first passage through the Suez Canal “initiated, open’d” by a “procession of steamships.” The second picture is the journey of the railway cars “winding along the Platte” River to a junction of the Union and Central Pacific railroads. These two engineering achievements have given concrete shape to the dreams of the “Genoese,” Columbus, “centuries after thou art laid in thy grave.” Columbus dreamed of “tying the Eastern to the Western sea”; his ideal has now been fulfilled.

The underlying significance of the two events which Whitman describes here is to show that man’s material advancement is only a means to his spiritual progress. The poet seems to master the vastness of space through his visionary power. And his thoughts also span time: modern achievements are a realization of Columbus’ dream of linking East with West. His discovery of America was only a first step toward finding a shorter passage to India.

. A Critical Analysis of Passage to India:

No other poem by Walt Whitman has suffered such changes in fortune as “Passage to India.” For the neo-humanists, with the history-of-ideas approach, “Passage to India” is the peak of Whitman’s achievement. Immature and unsure of himself in the earlier poems, Whitman grows and develops into a Poet-Prophet with a vision of world unity in “Passage to India.” Floyd Stovall’s “Main Drifts

in Whitman’s Poetry,”l written 46 years ago, has been the most influential article in this phase of criticism. However, the aesthetic approach to Whitman’s poetry resulted in a shift of emphasis from the later poems to some earlier ones. This change began with the centenary of the first edition of Leaves of Grass when some critics-mainly of the younger generation – called “Passage to India” inferior as poetry to earlier pieces which in their first published version seemed fresher and more powerful. Later Roy Harvey Pearce in his facsimile of the third edition emphasized the form and craftsmanship of poems of 1860. The status of later poetry. went further down when Richard Chase declared that in “Passage to India” Whitman has “given up poetry and become a speechmaker.”

In the opening of the poem, the speaker admires the three technological achievements of the 19th-century – the Suez Canal, the Pacific Railroad, and the Atlantic Cable, which are juxtaposed to the spiritual accomplishments of the Poet. The material achievements of the past are not mentioned as in Section 6 (ll. 130 – 142) because the contrast evoked here is not between the past and the present (as the image of a “projectile” shows) but between the two kinds of achievements, material and spiritual, only one of which has been completed by the New World. In fact, the two achievements are characterized in two different “planes” of imagery – one horizontal and another vertical. The scientific achievements cover horizontal distances, the linking of East and West; the spiritual achievements of the past, on the other hand, have been characterized on a vertical plane from the depths of soul to the heights of heaven. Notice the imagery in which the spiritual achievements are celebrated:

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! [11. 21-27] The temples of religions and the celestial towers of fables are pointing upwards toward heaven, emphasizing man’s yearning for spiritual knowledge. The poets and religious philosophers of the past, “eluding the hold of the known,” dreamed conceptions of God which are incorporated in the legends, epics and bibles of the ancient religions.

Coming back to the achievements on the horizontal plane, the speaker discerns God’s purpose in the evolution of the universe toward harmony and unity. In furthering this goal, the explorers, engineers, and the architects have played a major part. They have geographically connected the old world with the new “not for trade or transportation only, I But in God’s name, for thy sake 0 soul” (11. 39 – 40), that is to say, to realize the purpose of a united world. Their activity implicitly amounts to a new way of worshipping God, though they are unaware of their worship. It is comprehended and articulated by the speaker. But this worship performed by the scientists and engineers is a partial worship because they have fulfilled God’s intention only on the horizontal plane.

This leads to Section 3, where in two striking pictures, the “tableaux twain,” the poet depicts the opening of the Suez Canal, and the completion of the Pacific Railroad, both connecting East and West, both enhancing material progress. The speaker first watches from a distance the procession of a steamship through the Suez Canai and then advances to the deck to become a part of the scene. Similarly, in the next tableau, he changes from a distant observer of the train to a train passenger. Progressing thus in horizontal space, the speaker seems to dominate space~ which implies that man has mastered physical distance. The railroad links “the Eastern to the Western sea” and through the Suez Canal, it serves as the “road between Europe and Asia” (ll. 63 and 64), thus accomplishing, as he says in the next section, the “rondure of the World” (l. 80). This section ends with the speaker parenthetically exclaiming that the passage to India achieved by the 19th-century engineers and technologists is the fulfillment of the dream. of Columbus many centuries after his death.

The deferred dream of Columbus – an important theme in “Passage to India” -leads the speaker to explore the role of dreams and ideas in history. Visualizing a “ceaseless thought, a varied train” (1. 74) moving along the slopes of history, he emphasizes that the struggles, sacrifices, experiences, knowledge and inspiration of former voyagers all have led to the accomplishment of the goal. Man’s persistent efforts have unified the world.

The physical completion of the “rondure of the world” makes the mind of the speaker turn to the Edenic myth and perceive that the technological achievements of the nineteenth century have fulfilled the condition for spiritual accomplishments. In a Miltonic vision, he describes the beautiful globe “swimming in space” when Adam and Eve walked in the Garden of Eden in Asia. They and their “myriad progeny” are characterized in terms o( feverish and baffied activity, incessantly repeating the sad refrain, “Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and Whither O mocking life?” (1. 92). Troubled by the question of restless humanity, the speaker compassionately asks,

Ah who shall soothe these feverish children? Who justify these restless explorations? Who speak the secret of impassive earth?

Who bind it to us? what is the separate Nature so unnatural? What is this earth to our affections? (unloving earth, without a throb to answer ours,

Cold earth, the place of graves.) [11. 93 – 98]

He clearly sees that man, once in harmony with Nature and God, has now lost this state of unity. Earth is now “impassive” to man, and Nature is “separate” and “unnatural” Far from being a loving place, the earth is but the “cold earth, the place of graves.” The speaker is one of these feverish children (note the first person plural “us” and “our” in the context of the above lines); therefore, he cannot answer the questions of the people; he can neither soothe them, nor justify their explorations, nor speak the secret of the earth. He knows, however, that “the first intent remains, and shall be carried out” (1. 99) after the captains, engineers, scientists, and others have completed their job of physically uniting the world. The time has “perhaps” come, the singer feels, for the fulfillment of his prophecy.

In “Passage to India” Whitman has created a myth that the Poet, the true son of God, is born when lands and people have been joined and man has made utmost material progress. God’s purpose in the physical realm has been fulfilled, people and lands have been united; now the true Poet must come to complete God’s hidden prophetic intention by recovering the paradisal state for mankind. The speaker emerges as the Poet-Prophet who makes an imaginative journey upwards for a mystical union with God. The heavenly ascension of the Poet and his soul is imaged as a spiral corresponding to the material accomplishments on the horizontal plane. Since the material accomplishments of the past were limited, the upward movement of the old Poets and Prophets did not result in the accomplishment of “Trinitas divine,” but now that lands and people have been united, it is the whole globe as well as the individual soul that the upward spiral movement of the Poet links with heaven. The paradise which is restored to man is within as well as on earth. In this state, life will be renewed; Nature, Man and God will be harmonized; and man will live at peace with himself and with the surrounding universe. Matching the progress of the speaker from singer to Poet, the lines move from song to prophecy of the “true son of God” that man will regain the paradisal state – that though it may be deferred, the prophecy will be fulfilled.



Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary 

Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary

Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary

Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary Passage to India Summary

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