This is the 1872 edition of Walt Whitman’s masterwork Leaves of Grass, which included ‘Passage to India’, a poem that inspired the title of E M Forster’s 1924 novel A Passage to India.
Whitman first published Leaves of Grass in 1855, and continued adding new poems with each new edition until his death in 1892. Forster was a great admirer of Whitman’s work. In a 1942 radio talk for the BBC he recommended Leaves of Grass to his audience in these words: ‘his vastness, his warmth and his fearlessness might very well knock you over’ .
Why was Forster inspired by Whitman’s ‘Passage to India’?
Forster’s and Whitman’s works have many themes in common, including the central idea of human togetherness. This concept is crucial in Forster’s earlier novel Howards End, which contained the famous epigraph ‘Only Connect’. Forster’s discussion of the possibility of true friendship between British and Indian people – between colonisers and the colonised nation – in A Passage to India has much in common with the themes and ideas that Whitman explores in his poem:
Passage to India!
Lo, soul! seest thou not God’s purpose from the first?
The earth to be spann’d, connected by net-work,
The people to become brothers and sisters,
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.