“Passage to India” is a salute to the idea of the evolutionary progress of the human race; it celebrates the scientific achievements of the age, looks forward to the imminent dawning of an era in which all divisions and separations between people, and people and nature, will be eliminated, and heralds the spiritual voyage of every human soul into the depths of the inner universe. Whitman himself described the meaning of his poem, saying “that the divine efforts of heroes, and their ideas . . . will finally prevail, and be accomplished, however long deferred.”
The poem begins by celebrating three achievements of contemporary technology: the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable, and the growth of the American transcontinental railroad. These achievements outshine the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; however, the poet still hears the call of the ancient past, embodied in the myths and fables of Asia, with their daring reach toward an unfathomable spiritual truth. The refrain “Passage to India” therefore suggests the theme of inner as well as outer exploration.
Section 3 elaborates on two of the new wonders, picturing the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal and the grand landscapes through which the American railroad passes. The poet has been careful to establish that the great works of the present should be celebrated not merely for the human skill and knowledge to which they testify but also because they mark an important stage in the fulfillment of the divine plan: the human race coming together in unity. The section ends by flashing back to the past and invoking the name of Christopher...
(The entire section is 679 words.)