Literary Shelf

Passage to India by Walt Whitman

Passage to India which was published in 1871 together with other poems is a poem of the same visionary spirit, content and dreamy glide, written with some loafing and vagabond spirit, passing it from man to man, place to place so full of generalizations and ruminations over time, man and spirit, human thought and idea as these are the poems of a greater dimension, a wider spectrum telling of the kindred relation between the Soul and the Over Soul, the Mind and Over Mind, the Self and the Greater Self. A visionary he sees the visions of the past and the present and tries to draw from what human race has learnt, how the suffering of it which man has forgotten to take a note of that over the passage of time deriving it from, service to man is service to God. God is in the service of man; the service one man does for another. Try to hear the pains of others. Try to serve others selflessly. Think of the services of the other people. Many a thing we know it not, many a thing have we forgotten. What it is history is not actually. The history of man knows not, the history of earth, the history of time. In the backdrop of the Civil War and reconciliation, the nascence American federation, he thinks of America, the future of it as well as the future of democracy, what it lies for human race, how to take the giant leap with science and technology. What wrongs have we done in the name of religion? How did we bleed humanity? We went for witch-hunting and honour killing, we entertained inhuman slavery. The conservatives wreaked unnecessary havoc. The fanatics did it so much so bloodletting.

The poet sings of his times and the age in which he was born, he sings of human progress and development, science and technology, the wonders of science, the victory over ruthless Nature and the furies of it, engineering, skill, communication, and connection. Such a thing it is in Ulysses, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Such a thing it is in Galileo. Just like a bird he keeps singing, singing the songs of America and democratic confederation. Invoking Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara as for an auspicious start, a benediction needed for, he seems to be seeking blessings directly from Vishwakarma, the God of Architects and Artisans.

How the India of his dreams, how his visions Upanishadic, Vedic and
Puranic aligning with Vishwamanava, the Universal Man, Vasudheva Kutumbakam, World Humanity, The Whole World Is Our
Relative? Only a man with so much meditative assimilation and transcendental vision can come to grapple and align with it which is in him who is but a wanderer, a vagabond, a dreamer dreaming about the fate of humanity and human race wanting to get his visions translated into reality. He feels it, how were it the visions of the past? What should it be about future? And how to go with the present? What should it be done for the emancipation of humanity? What should it be for human race? How to speed up the pace of progress and development? There must be a co-ordination between our thought and idea. How long shall we regress into darkness? Spiritual thoughts and ideas are alright, but science and technology have much more to do.

A vagabond’s vision is it, the visions of the past, the present and the future, a dreamer’s noonday, midday, and midnight dreams lies in here in this poem of reckoning where he glides and glides, floats and floats. A mariner’s patience, a map-maker’s struggles, a wanderer’s joy and sorrow, a traveller’s experience, who has at least come to feel it? The world is in the go of its own unaware of the pains the mariners, construction-workers, masons, artisans, builders, merchants, navy men, mariners, sailors, seamen, shipmen have taken to. Who has kept abreast of world news rather than what the kings did in the battlefields? The victory of the bloody sword cannot be the history of the world. The history of human race has never been written. The true history of humanity, human service we know it not who has served in what way without claiming for name and fame. The world was not as we take to. The volume of the unwritten is greater than that of the written and what we see it as written is not exactly so. Here matters are curtailed and scissored and tailed. What did the kings do in waging wars fanatically? The great achievement of the present sings he, eulogizes he, what has it been handed over to humanity in terms of human growth and development, what service has it been rendered to. Who has taken pains to write it? How the oceans have been fathomed? How the roads have been laid down? How the bridges and dams? Who is there to tell the history of science and development? The kingdom is not in royal commandments and cruelty, aristocracy and palatial grandeur, but in the wide world which is before you to study and peruse.

With India as the dawn of civilization, the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas in the background, he keeps singing, singing the songs of progress and development, how has humanity developed, how has it progressed, who has taken care of writing it afresh banishing orthodoxy, superstition and nondescript practices out of mind? The pains of the sailors, navigators, shipmen, none has striven to know them, how have joys and sorrows overtaken them, how their furrows and fathoms, struggles with furies and foams?

How ahead of time and age had he been when he thought of paying tributes and homage to the builders and makers of the world, how transcendental had he been who could mould his thoughts in such a way! The hearts of the engineers, captains, shipmen, seamen, navigators he laid them bare to show how did it beat, how was it their labour! The stories of devastated shipwrecks who can tell it about. Had they not explored and discovered, could the world have been a better place to dwell in?

When all were engrossed in ecclesiastical and theological matters, he saw the visions of the present and the future. What others could not, he dreamt it for the sake of humanity, foresaw them to predict its future. The history of the world is not in the depiction of royal palaces, battles fought and won, but in the betterment of humans. What did the kings do it does not matter it at all! The present has grown out of the past is a fact that cannot be denied.

Passage To India is a song of the karmayogin, you go on, go on, on the path of life, O karmayogin, your karma is your dharma, is the thing of deliberation herein.

Walt Whitman tells the history of man, the history of the world in Passage to India. What was man in the past? How did Light break upon, the Light of Knowledge? But some service too must be done and if do we not, who will do it? Service to man is service to God.

It is India which he seeks to journey to as for to rejuvenate and reinvigorate himself and the lines come to him in the form of visions just as dream-sequence or dream allegory so reflective in the images drawn from the repertoire of classical imagery and spiritual bliss. Whitman just wishes to partake in to derive from to add classical charm to it. Taking soul to be his guide, he lays it bare the things of his vagabond heart, life and living. A singer of heart he sings of the self, which is in you, which is in me, in us all, a singer in verse bordering on prose patterns and free verse, he is a singer of the world and the songs of his the songs of vagabond life and the world.

What is it God's purpose? What does He want from? Should it be more than? How to translate the dreams into reality? How to spread it world humanism? He wishes to go to his fabled home of moral strength and spiritual illumination which is but the ancient citadel of civilization where the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas saw the light of the day. How did the chants take the herald of the day? How did the mantras cast an incantation of their own? How could they think of Vishwadevata, God of the World and Vishwamanava, the Universal Man?

A vagabond with nothing his own, neither to move ahead nor to retreat, he has but practical knowledge heard from gossips to carry it forward. Though his stock is from India, but instead of there is something to recreate from. He wants to go further more. How to serve humanity in a better way and who is it who serves he seeks to know it from them?

The poem is an account and acknowledgement of the works carried out by architects, engineers, technocrats and builders. Had they not built, done the construction, could it have materialized? The world too needs them so much so earnestly. Had the seas been not furrowed, delved deep and plunged into the waters, fathomed and furrowed, could we have been?

Passage To India is a vagabond's vision of life and the world. The poet derived so much of poetic vision and inspiration after hearing the world news, after marking heavy engineering materials in swing.

Man is no more a tool into the hands of destiny. He can now change his fate with his work. Man proposes, God disposes, cannot be the dictum always. Before Nature, how long will he remain helpless?

It is not India’s song, but that of America, fostering American vision and dream. We just talk of dynasties and kings but know it not how the things are kept and maintained.

A vagabond, where his home, how his affection, how his attachment! Out of house, he is of the paths and from the paths he is viewing life, how the core things, how the things are made, where to go and what to do ultimately!

Passage To India is a poem of the karmayogin with the message, go on, go on forever on the path of life, as for karma is your dharma and dharma your karma! Karma is not less than dharma. With India on his mind-set, he seems to be plunging into the waters, launching the boat for a voyage to India, the land of human civilization and noble thoughts and ideas fostering the concept of humanity and humanism even in that age. But the poet tries to balance the spiritual pace with the extent of service, progress and development. Thoughts and ideas are necessary no doubt, but science and technology no mean development. can we think how science has worked wonders? How much does humanity feel it relieved now? We do not note how the things have got materialized. Vishwamanav, the Universal Man is the lesson which the scriptures have imparted it, but logic and reason, fact and figures too must be taken into confidence. Had the engineers, architects, builders, machinists not worked, the world would not have a better place to dwell in as you think it now. Whitman talks of a new age to herald, a chapter to be opened; he wants to take a note of the unwritten, what it is not in history. History needs to be written it again. A vagabond he has learnt it from loitering, wandering aimlessly, loafing, passing life in doing different petty jobs, serving the wounded telling of the futility of wars, unnecessary bloodletting, hatred, enmity, violence. Humanity is in the bandage, nursing and care of the hospitalized. What it in divisions if divide they man from man?

It is actually a song of the seafarers, navigators, sailors, shipmen, seamen, captains and coast guards and light houses. It is a song in which one can see the pictures of Tempest, Gulliver’s Travels, The Lagoon, Look, Stranger, Ulysses and so on. How much do we know about the voyages of Columbus and Vasco da Gama? How did the motorcar come to? What it the history of the steam engines? How were the rail tracks laid down? How the maps and the sites of the world? The pictures of the Renaissance and the Reformation dance before the eyes when we talk of the poem.

All the poems written by Walt Whitman finally go to Leaves of Grass. As Leaves of Grass is a self-published work, hence the author has revised and re-revised it, edited and re-edited it with something added and something subtracted from time to time as he deemed it fit and it is a beauty to see the work with alterations and revisions. The theme is almost the same, but the lines take wings with every edition as he could not manage them and it is difficult to be the writer, proof-reader, editor, publisher of his own work the same time working in so many capacities.

The poet sings of his times, the age in which he was born; he sings of India, America and the world.


Singing my days,
Singing the great achievements of the present,
Singing the strong light works of engineers,
Our modern wonders, (the antique ponderous Seven outvied,)
In the Old World the east the Suez canal,
The New by its mighty railroad spann’d,
The seas inlaid with eloquent gentle wires;
Yet first to sound, and ever sound, the cry with thee O soul,
The Past! the Past! the Past!

The Past— the dark unfathom’d retrospect!
The 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?
(As a projectile, form’d, impell’d, passing a certain line, still keeps on,
So the present, utterly form’d, impell’d by the past.)

Where should it the soul journey to? Asiatic myths, primitive fables, when were they written? How the tales told, and the moral lessons imparted? A spiritual journey to the India of fables and parables for a make-over to be balanced with scientific progress and development is the thing.


Passage O soul to India!
Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.

Not you alone proud truths of the world!
Nor you alone ye facts of modern science,
But myths and fables of eld, Asia’s, Africa’s fables,
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,
The 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.

A worship new I sing,
You captains, voyagers, explorers, yours,
You engineers, you architects, machinists, yours,
You, not for trade or transportation only,
But in God’s name, and for thy sake O soul.

His heart leaps with joy when he sees the trains whistling and passing by, the steamships tossed over the waters, the gigantic machines dredging, how beautiful is it to see the workmen at work! We must acknowledge what the people do for us and had they not, could it have been so?


Passage to India!
Lo soul for thee of tableaus twain,
I see in one the Suez canal initiated, open’d,
I see 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 gather’d,
The gigantic dredging machines.

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 passengers,
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,
I see the plentiful larkspur and wild onions, the barren, colorless, sage-deserts,
I see in glimpses afar or towering immediately above me the great mountains, I see the Wind River and the Wahsatch mountains,
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,
Marking through these and after all, in duplicate slender lines,
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 thy dream! thy dream!
Centuries after thou art laid in thy grave,
The shore thou foundest verifies thy dream.)

The struggles of many a captain, many a sailor he tries to think of, how have they braved the furies, played with the waters, searched for newer lands. The river of time will keep it floating.


Passage to India!
Struggles of many a captain, tales of many a sailor dead,
Over my mood stealing and spreading they come,
Like 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 expeditions;
Again Vasco de Gama sails forth,
Again the knowledge gain’d, the mariner’s compass,
Lands found and nations born, thou born America,
For purpose vast, man’s long probation fill’d,
Thou, rondure of the world at last accomplish’d.

How to resolve the mysteries of the mysterious universe? How the dark myths of life and death? How to take into the myths of creation? What si this earth? How Nature so calm and furious, mild and tameless as Wordsworth tells about in his Lucy poems and Shelley in Ode to the West Wind?


O vast Rondure, swimming in space,
Cover’d all over with visible power and beauty,
Alternate light and day, and the teeming spiritual darkness,
Unspeakable high processions of sun and moon and countless stars above,
Below, the manifold grass and waters, animals, mountains, trees,
With inscrutable purpose, some hidden prophetic intention,
Now first it seems my thought begins to span thee.

Down from the gardens of Asia descending radiating,
Adam and 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 soul? and Whither O mocking life?

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 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 graves.)

Yet soul be sure the first intent remains, and shall be carried out,
Perhaps even now the time has arrived.

After the 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 that name,
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,
All affection shall be fully responded to, the secret shall be told,
All these separations and gaps shall be taken up and hook’d and link’d together,
The whole 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,
(He shall indeed pass the straits and conquer the mountains,
He shall double the Cape of Good Hope to some purpose,)
Nature and Man shall be disjoin’d and diffused no more,
The true son of God shall absolutely fuse them.

Where do the years take back? Where does he regress and retreat to? How to read history and how to align the landscapes? How to visit new lands? How to know about their climates, cultures, manners and customs? How to bridge with dams?


Year at whose wide-flung door I sing!
Year of the purpose accomplish’d!
Year of the marriage of continents, climates and oceans!
(No mere doge of Venice now wedding the Adriatic,)
I see, O year in you the vast terraqueous globe given and giving all,
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,
The river Euphrates flowing, the past lit up again.

Lo soul, the retrospect brought forward,
The old, most populous, wealthiest of earth’s lands,
The streams of the Indus and the Ganges, and their many affluents,
(I my shores of America walking to-day behold, resuming all,)
The tale of Alexander, on his warlike marches suddenly dying,
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,
Old 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, Portuguese,
The first travelers famous yet, Marco Polo, Batouta the Moor,
Doubts to be solv’d, the map incognita, blanks to be fill’d,
The foot of man unstay’d, the hands never at rest,
Thyself O soul that will not brook a challenge.

The medieval navigators rise before me,
The world of 1492, with its awaken’d enterprise,
Something swelling in humanity now like the sap of the earth in spring,
The sunset splendor of chivalry declining.

And who art thou, sad shade?
Gigantic, visionary, thyself a visionary,
With majestic limbs, and pious beaming eyes,
Spreading around, with every look of thine, a golden world,
Enhuing it with gorgeous hues.

As the chief histrion,
Down to the footlights walks in some great scena,
Dominating the rest I see the Admiral himself,
(History’s type of courage, action, faith,)
Behold him sail from Palos leading his little fleet,
His voyage behold, his return, his great fame,
His misfortunes, calumniators, behold him a prisoner, chain’d,
Behold his dejection, poverty, death.

(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,
Uprising in the night, it sprouts, blooms,
And fills the earth with use and beauty.)

Addressing the soul, taking it in utmost confidence, says he the truths of life and the world, the secrets laid bare and revealed, disclosed and divulged. The soul is with him and he with the soul and this is enough for feeling the pulse of the world and humanity.


Passage indeed O soul to primal thought,
Not lands and seas alone, thy own clear freshness,
The young maturity of brood and bloom,
To realms of budding bibles.

O soul, repress-less, I with thee and thou with me,
Thy circumnavigation of the world begin,
Of man, the voyage of his mind’s return,
To reason’s early paradise,
Back, back to wisdom’s birth, to innocent intuitions,
Again with fair creation.

This is not the time for rumination, not the time for wasting it, it is for to get ready for a dive and if the spirit is okay, everything is but okay. Hence lower you not down. Go on exploring, searching and you will come to search and find it. Go on discovering the hidden treasures which but humanity has never beholden that stamina is needed, that spirit need we most, the urge to discover and explore, the inquisitive power we have not lost it, as a man finds as he searches so will be the finding of his.


O we can wait no longer,
We too take ship O soul,
Joyous we too launch out on trackless seas,
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,)
Caroling free, 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,
Sailing these seas or on the hills, or waking in the night,
Thoughts, silent thoughts, of Time and Space and Death, like waters flowing,
Bear me 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 transcendant,
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 there?
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, harmonious,
Athwart the 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,
At 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 the orbs,
Thou matest Time, smilest content at Death,
And 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?
What aspirations, wishes, outvie thine and ours, O soul?
What dreams of the ideal? what plans of purity, perfection, strength?
What 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 done,
Surrounded, copest, frontest God, yieldest, the aim attain’d,
As fill’d with friendship, love complete, the Elder Brother found,
The Younger melts in fondness in his arms.

A passage to more than India, he converses with his self, the self of the nation and the world whose part is it his motherland, whose part is it his self a speck of the Greater Self from which everything comes to, originates it. Whose is the light? Whose is this creation from where everything is? The day which begins it with the red rising sun, has it not taught us? The star which twinkles it during the night, does it not talk about the mysterious phenomena? The secret of the earth and the sky, are they not something more than a passage to India?


Passage to more than India!
Are thy wings plumed indeed for such far flights?
O Soul, voyagest thou indeed on voyages like these?
Disportest 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 fierce enigmas!
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 snows!
O day and night, passage to you!

O 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!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’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 only,
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 sail!


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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