The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Passage to India” was first published in 1871 as the title piece in a book of seventy-five poems (twenty-three of them new) that were subsequently incorporated into the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass as a separately paginated supplement. Slightly revised, the poem became an integral part of Leaves of Grass in 1881 despite Walt Whitman’s having conceived “Passage to India” as well as the poems he planned to add to it as marking a new and quite different direction. Leaves of Grass, he contended, was the song of “the Body and Existence”; “Passage to India” was to be the song of “the unseen Soul,” as the “ardent and fully appointed Personality” that had been the subject of the earlier collection entered “the sphere of the restless gravitation of Spiritual Law.” The decision to incorporate the later intention into the earlier work reflects Whitman’s willingness to expand, revise, and even reshape Leaves of Grass over the years. That decision also reflects, for all the overt optimism of “Passage to India,” the poet’s dissatisfaction as the United States, the nation that he believed was itself the greatest poem, failed to live up to his expectations and failed as well to accept him as “affectionately” as he had accepted it. (Any lingering hopes he still had to make Passage to India the successor to and equal of Leaves of Grass were put to rest by the stroke and partial...
(The entire section is 678 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Much of the cohesiveness and intelligibility of “Passage to India” derives from Whitman’s elaboration of the conceit introduced in the poem’s title: that of passage or voyage. The poem’s greatness stems from a less obvious and more potent source: Whitman’s artfully artless style. More spoken than written, it is a style at once intense yet diffuse, expansive yet elliptical. Drawing everything into its democratic embrace, it nevertheless tends to blur every “each” into a nearly indistinguishable “all” and seeks to convince the reader by virtue of a logic beyond or perhaps prior to reason. At once ahead of its time and primitive, it sends its “ceaseless” and “repressless” (though “varied”) message via an elaborate system of rhetorical devices.
Whitman’s style is orphic in form and ecstatic in effect. Parenthetical asides and purely rhetorical questions play their parts; more important are the frequent, urgent exclamations and the apostrophizing of everything from architects, engineers, and explorers to generalized facts, abstract truth, the year itself, the planet Earth (“Rondure”), unspecified “enigmas,” and a “Comrade perfect” who may be friend, lover, God, or all three. The repeated apostrophizing is one of several factors that contribute to the poem’s cumulative power. The repetition of individual words is another: In section 3, for example, the word “I” is used twenty-one times in only twenty-seven...
(The entire section is 296 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Allen, Gay Wilson. A Reader’s Guide to Walt Whitman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970.
Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. Rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 1967.
Asselineau, Roger. The Evolution of Walt Whitman. Expanded ed. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999.
Gold, Arthur, comp. Walt Whitman: A Collection of Criticism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.
Greenspan, Ezra, ed. Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.
Miller, James E., Jr. Walt Whitman. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990.
Pearce, Roy Harvey, ed. Whitman: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962.
Reynolds, David S., ed. Walt Whitman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Sowder, Michael. Whitman’s Ecstatic Union: Conversion and Ideology in “Leaves of Grass.” New York: Routledge, 2005.
Woodress, James, ed. Critical Essays on Walt Whitman. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983....
(The entire section is 168 words.)