A Passage to More than India

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English & Comparative Literature Department

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Ferial J. Ghazoul

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Postcolonial Studies

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The long poem of Walt Whitman entitled “Passage to India” (published in 1871, written in 1869) celebrates the opening of the Suez canal (1869) in its role as linking the East with the West, the spirituality of Asia with new technological innovations of the modern world. Walt Whitman, the undisputed father of American poetry, presented the world in the nine sections of the poem as one “global village”. On analysing the poem, we can see the Orientalist subtext associating the primitive with the Other and the scientific with the self. There is also in the poem a political lining of enthusiastic American nationalism – and its so-called correlative, “Manifest Destiny” – in which Whitman sees America and its expansion as the last stage of empire that will build a utopian world. Whitman’s belief in “the imperial mission of the United States” as well as his commitment to the ideology of Manifest Destiny is apparent in his poetry. This nationalistic fervour is countered by an internationalism where Whitman or rather the poetic persona in the poem projects the brotherhood of all peoples and the integration of all continents. Unpacking the political substrata in the poem that are couched in rhetorical devices will reveal an inherent tension between claims. It is time to challenge the myth of Whitman as a prophet of brotherhood and a progressive poet.

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