Cosmic Purposes: Whitman's "Passage to India"

The major poem of Walt Whitman's later years, "Passage to India" (first published in 1871) takes as its starting point three achievements of the age "” the laying of the Atlantic cable, the opening of the Suez Canal, and the linking of the Union and Pacific railroads "” achievements that could be said to complete what Columbus had begun. But on another level, as one critic observed, the poem is about the "human soul's triumph over Time, Space, and Death." The 23-page manuscript in the Oscar Lion Collection is a working draft of the poem and shows copious revisions. It is not the manuscript from which type was set (that is in the Amy Lowell Collection at Harvard). The Lion Collection also has a related notebook (1869) containing notes for the poem and a statement of its "spinal Idea":

That the divine efforts of heroes, & their ideas, faithfully lived up to, will finally prevail, and be accomplished however long deferred.
As Whitman told Horace Traubel, one of his most ardent disciples, "the burden of it is evolution "” the one thing escaping the other "” the unfolding of cosmic purposes."


Walt Whitman. "Passage to India". Autograph manuscript, [1869].
The New York Public Library, Rare Book Division, Oscar Lion Collection.


More Images from Whitman's "Passage to India"

Whitman's Manuscript Notebook for "Passage to India" (1869)

Collection Guide: Walt Whitman Manuscripts

Related Publication: I Am with You: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, 1855-2005

About the Rare Book Division

Portrait of Whitman: The "Christ Likeness"