Passage to India

Walt Whitman - 1819-1892

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.)


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.   

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.)   

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.   

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.   


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.)  


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, repressless, 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.  


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.   


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 Walt Whitman

A Noiseless Patient Spider

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.


Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, 
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, 
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

To Think of Time


To think of time—of all that retrospection!   
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!   
Have you guess'd you yourself would not continue?   
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?   
Have you fear'd the future would be nothing to you?
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?   
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.   
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and women
   were flexible, real, alive! that everything was alive!   
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!

Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!   
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,   
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,   
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and terrible
   look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers and sisters
   are sent for,   
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell has
   long pervaded the rooms,)   
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying,   
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,   
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look upon it,   
It is palpable as the living are palpable.   
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,   
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks curiously
   on the corpse.   

To think the thought of Death, merged in the thought of materials! 
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and fruits ripen,
   and act upon others as upon us now—yet not act upon us!   
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking
   great interest in them—and we taking no interest in them!   
To think how eager we are in building our houses!   
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent!   
(I see one building the house that serves him a few years, or seventy
   or eighty years at most,
I see one building the house that serves him longer than that.)   
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never
   cease—they are the burial lines,   
He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall
   surely be buried.   

A reminiscence of the vulgar fate,   
A frequent sample of the life and death of workmen,
Each after his kind:   
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in the river,
   half-frozen mud in the streets, a gray, discouraged sky overhead,
   the short, last daylight of Twelfth-month,   
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the funeral
   of an old Broadway stage-driver, the cortege mostly drivers.   
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, the gate
   is pass'd, the new-dug grave is halted at, the living alight, the
   hearse uncloses,   
The coffin is pass'd out, lower'd and settled, the whip is laid on the
   coffin, the earth is swiftly shovel'd in, 
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,   
A minute—no one moves or speaks—it is done,   
He is decently put away—is there anything more?   
He was a good fellow, free-mouth'd, quick-temper'd, not bad-looking,
   able to take his own part, witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with
   life or death for a friend, fond of women, gambled, ate hearty,
   drank hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited
   toward the last, sicken'd, was help'd by a contribution, died, aged
   forty-one years—and that was his funeral.   
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves, strap, wet-weather
   clothes, whip carefully chosen, boss, spotter, starter, hostler,
   somebody loafing on you, you loafing on somebody, headway, man before
   and man behind, good day's work, bad day's work, pet stock, mean
   stock, first out, last out, turning-in at night;
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other drivers—and
   he there takes no interest in them!   

The markets, the government, the working-man's wages—to think what
   account they are through our nights and days!   
To think that other working-men will make just as great account of
   them—yet we make little or no account!   
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and what you call
   goodness—to think how wide a difference!   
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond
   the difference.
To think how much pleasure there is!   
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you pleasure from poems?   
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a
   nomination and election? or with your wife and family?   
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful
   maternal cares?   
—These also flow onward to others—you and I flow onward, 
But in due time, you and I shall take less interest in them.   
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engross'd you are!   
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for you, of
   what avail?   

What will be, will be well—for what is, is well,   
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
The sky continues beautiful,   
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated, nor the pleasure of
   women with men, nor the pleasure from poems,   
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of
   houses—these are not phantasms—they have weight, form,
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are none of them
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the things of
   his life, are well-consider'd.   
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and safely
   around yourself;   
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, forever and ever!   

It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother and
   father—it is to identify you;   
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should be decided;
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form'd in you,   
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.   
The threads that were spun are gather'd, the weft crosses the warp,
   the pattern is systematic.   
The preparations have every one been justified,   
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—the
   baton has given the signal.
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—he
   is now housed,   
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he is one of
   those that to look upon and be with is enough.   
The law of the past cannot be eluded,   
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,   
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,   
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,   
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one iota thereof
   can be eluded.   

Slow moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,   
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and they on the
   Atlantic side, and they on the Pacific, and they between, and all
   through the Mississippi country, and all over the earth.
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the heroes and
   good-doers are well,   
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners and pious and
   distinguish'd, may be well,   
But there is more account than that—there is strict account
   of all.   
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are not nothing,   
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
The common people of Europe are not nothing—the American
   aborigines are not nothing,   
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—the
   murderer or mean person is not nothing,   
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing as
   they go,   
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of religion
   is not nothing as he goes.   

Of and in all these things,
I have dream'd that we are not to be changed so much, nor the law
   of us changed,   
I have dream'd that heroes and good-doers shall be under the present
   and past law,   
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the present
   and past law,   
For I have dream'd that the law they are under now is enough.   
If otherwise, all came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then Alarum! for we are betray'd!   
Then indeed suspicion of death.   
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I should die
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward

Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,   
The whole universe indicates that it is good,   
The past and the present indicate that it is good.   
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!   
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just
   as perfect,   
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable
   fluids are perfect;   
Slowly and surely they have pass'd on to this, and slowly and surely
   they yet pass on.   

I swear I think now that everything without exception has an
   eternal Soul!   
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have!
   the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!   
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is
   for it, and the cohering is for it;   
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life
   and materials are altogether for it!