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Impressions of the West: Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman originally wrote ‘Passage to India’ in 1870, and first published it in the 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass. There are many possible readings of the poem – one is about the flight of the soul toward transcendent wisdom:

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.

But on his way toward ‘all the seas of God,’ Whitman also follows a down-to-earth path, one that takes him into the territory of the American West, newly opened by the transcontinental railroad:

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.

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