Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Facing West from California's Shores" (1860)
Author:
Doudna, Martin K.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The penultimate poem in the "Children of Adam" section of Leaves of Grass and an early precursor of "Passage to India," "Facing West" began as a six-line poem probably written in 1856 or 1857. Now in the Barrett Collection at the University of Virginia, the manuscript bears the title "Hindustan, from the Western Sea." The poem was first published in a nine-line version in the third edition of Leaves of Grass (1860) as number 10 in the section "Enfans d'Adam." Like the other poems in that section it is untitled. The final version, eleven lines long, incorporates a new first line (which is also used as the title), an eighth line containing the key word "wander'd" twice, and a few minor verbal changes.

Perhaps because "Facing West" is unique among the poems in "Children of Adam" in not referring to love, sexuality, or the human body, Whitman considered transferring it to the "Drum-Taps" section of the fourth edition (1867), as he indicated by a penciled note in his personal copy of the 1860 edition, the Blue Book. But the logic of leaving it with "Children of Adam" lies in its relationship with the first and last poems of that section. The speaker in the first poem, who refers to being accompanied by Eve, is Adam, and the speaker in the last poem compares himself to Adam.

Since the speaker in "Facing West" describes himself paradoxically as "a child, very old," he seems not only to be a descendant of Adam but also to represent all the generations of Adam's descendants. The poem thus adumbrates the theme to be developed later in "Passage to India," particularly section 5, lines 88–92, which speak of the restless wanderings of humanity—children of Adam and Eve—from a common place of origin in Asia.

Bibliography

Whitman, Walt. Walt Whitman's Blue Book. Ed. Arthur Golden. 2 vols. New York: The New York Public Library, 1968.

____. Whitman's Manuscripts: "Leaves of Grass" (1860). Ed. Fredson Bowers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1955.


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