Walt Whitman: Purpose of the US to found Friendship between East and West

Walt Whitman | Leaves of Grass | – –

To the East and to the West

To the East and to the West,
To the man of the Seaside State and of Pennsylvania,
To the Kanadian of the north, to the Southerner I love,
These with perfect trust to depict you as myself, the germs are in all men,
I believe the main purport of these States is to found a superb
       friendship, exalté, previously unknown,
Because I perceive it waits, and has been always waiting, latent in all men.


Posted in poetry,Tolerance | 5 Responses | Print |

5 Responses

  1. It’s not clear what “east” and “west” is being referred to here? It could seem solely within North America – i.e. Anglo America! A better poem to site might be one of his major if not greatest productions, Passage to India. Maybe canto 5, beginning “O vast rondure swimming in space …” Other cantos or parts of as well, e.g. canto 2: “Passage to India!/Lo soul, thou not God’s purpose from the first?/The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,/The oceans to be crossed, the distant brought near,/The lands to be welded together.”). Whitman is using “India”, as in the old usage, “the Indies”, a term for the East /Orient.
    By the way, I think Whitman rightly identifies the modern Western discovery, exploration, and conquest of the world of the past 500+years to be potent of more dynamic and positive consequences and promise than just what we may be thinking in external and negative materialistic and imperialistic terms. Canto 5 ends: “…All these hearts as of fretted children shall be soothed,/All affection shall be fully responded to, the secret shall be told,/All these separations and gaps shall be taken up and hook’d and link’d together,/The whole earth, this cold, impassive, voiceless earth, shall be completely justified,/…Nature and Man shall be disjoin’d and diffused no more, …” …and on and on and on as only old Walt can go!

    • Thank you Edward, a reference to the transcendental poets and the Perennial Philosophy which permeates eastern philosophy. It points to what the west needs to hear, value and incorporate in our shortsighted ‘exceptionalism’ that threatens to tear both us apart and divide the world.

  2. Since his north comments concern Canada — a foreign country– it is logical to think that his East and West also stretch beyond the US borders.

    • I doubt that but we can construe it so for the desired vision here.
      Whitman always considered Canada (or “Kanada” as he oddly spelled it throughout Leaves of Grass) as part of a greater American nation. That’s implied in various poems such as “By Blue Ontario’s Shore” for instance, or explicitly in prose works of his.
      He envisioned and expected Canada eventually to furnish several new states to the Union. But beyond that nationalistic vision, he also had a transcendental one: a union (put in erotic terms as a marriage, spiritual anyway) of all humanity in every land and continent, all nations, races, cultures and religions. America the great republic – DEMOCRACY, a nation of nations, would be the forerunner and exemplar.
      Once upon a time we would never have expected white Western Christian Europe to resemble America as a destination of masses of ethnically and religiously diverse people from across the seas seeking opportunity, refuge and freedom. There seems to be some special karma or irony involved in Europe’s case: the former colonizers being colonized. Fortunately many of the traditionally native inhabitants, not least the young generation (as I find here too), seem to want to solve the resulting problems of assimilation humanely, and democratically, understanding that the world is a very small world now, the West responsible for it’s ever happening. I will add, however, I expect that America will continue to lead the world, as we become the premier “majority minority nation”. Also I’ll add something I heard said by an elderly Chinese dissident in Beijing: that China would not be the future and lead the world, because nobody really wants to immigrate there. Of course China already has too many people to offer opportunity to millions of foreigners, and not the freedom and democracy they might be seeking as much as anything else. Freedom and democracy are among the most important thing to offer to others; I trust we can preserve it for ourselves to be able to offer others. (Gee, you and Walt Whitman got me thinking away East and West/North and South like this!)

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