Walt Whitman Passage to India Term Paper

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Walt Whitman; Passage to India

Considering Technology and the Soul in Walt Whitman's "Passage to India"

Though Leaves of Grass was initially a grand commercial failure, Walt Whitman's bold new poetic voice did not go unrecognized by critics. Praised by Emerson, Leaves of Grass was written in free verse, which was far from the norm at the time, and thus represented a daring departure from the poetic standards of the mid to late 19th century. Often criticized for its open and joyous discussion of the body and physical love, Whitman seemed to be speaking of and for the "common" man, as opposed to the usual audience of stoic intellectuals. "Passage to India" in particular seems to be calling out to the common man, encouraging him to embrace our modern world, but to remember that the capabilities of the poetic soul have, and always will, outpace and outdistance any mundane form of machinery.

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Whitman begins "Passage to India" with praise for the technological advances of the time. He places this piece firmly in history by discussing the modern wonders that were being developed or completed in the time during which Whitman wrote. The Suez Canal, the expansion of the railroad, telegraph and telephone wires are all explicitly mentioned. Though Whitman quickly enters into his discussion of the soul, his tone is not bitter or resentful of these advances. Referring to the "eloquent, and gentle wires" (7), it appears as if the author has a respect for these new advances, and can even recognize the poetic beauty in these man made things. However, this gentle moment reflecting on the beauty of the advances made is brief and we are quickly brought to real point of this poem.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Walt Whitman Passage to India Assignment

By evoking the soul to make its journey to the past, Whitman is reminding his audience that, though technology has brought mankind, and his soul, amazing capabilities of exploration and discovery, it only has the ability to move man forward. The soul, on the other hand, has the ability to dig deep into the past and come up with new-found experiences and discoveries every time. Whitman pleads to "passage, O soul, to India!" (16) to reconnect with the source of man and to "eclaircise the myths Asiatic -- the primitive fables" (17).

To Western men, the East has always had a quality of mystery. It has been believed that the ancient ways of the East hold deep secrets, and are perhaps more genuine paths to God. The mystery and wisdom of the East always appears as if the answers to all of man's questions about himself, the universe, and his place within it are just beyond the thin veil of silk and incense smoke. The intrigue of the East is outlined in the second stanza of Whitman's 8th passage:

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; 130

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, 135

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, 140

Doubts to be solv'd, the map incognita, blanks to be fill'd,

The foot of man unstay'd, the hands never at rest,

The last line of this section can serve as a summary of Whitman's message; "Thyself, O soul, that will not brook a challenge" (143).

Of course, another question arises out of this passage as well. Whitman's mention of great heroes like Alexander, great battles and great religious figures brings America's newness into stark contrast. Though the United States has developed amazing technology, it seems necessary to evaluate the state of the soul in this country when we have no heroes of Alexander's caliber, nor a religion with such ancient roots as to compare with the Hindu and Buddhist gods. Whitman points out that it seems to be that America could be in a position to carry on these traditions and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Walt Whitman Passage to India."  Essaytown.com.  November 15, 2006.  Accessed August 5, 2021.