The First Passage to India

Human togetherness. Global humanity. The poem that inspired Forster’s novel hums with the energy of Suez, of steamships, of “the seas inlaid with eloquent, gentle wires.”

Well, here we are in 2020, at a point along that still unfolding storyline. As we sing our days in the era of coronavirus, knowing a whole lot more about undersea cables and the technologies they represent, as we wonder where we’re headed, consider this image from the 2019 exhibition, Walt Whitman: America’s Poet. Written in Whitman’s own hand, pen and ink and poet’s mind, the poem sends its vibrations out through time.

From the 2019 NYPL Walt Whitman exhibition

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.

I am personally not so wild about these lines:

Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.  

Although I do love the word “eclaircise.” But here, he’s talking about us, surely.

Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?   
Who justify these restless explorations?

But most of all, I get the part that Forster found so thrilling, the big sweep, the trajectory of history, all of it pouring into our “present, utterly form’d, impell’d by the past.”