Of all the Whitman I have enjoyed this week, his poem “Facing West From California’s Shores” has intrigued me the most. He creates such an interesting dichotomy by combining youthful and aged components. In the same breath Whitman describes himself both as a “child” and “very old.” The poem goes on to list exotic places such as “the vales of Kashmir” in an adventurous, exploratory way that celebrates freedom. However, with the image of “the circle almost circled” a slightly weary tone emerges. All of this is building to the simple but compelling hypothetical that is the last line “But where is what I started for, so long ago?”
Walt Whitman, the champion of American freedom and expansion has seen and done incredible things but expresses in this poem his inability to be completely fulfilled or satisfied. He is standing on the western shore of a country that was once utterly unknown, but now that he has seen it, what is left to be discovered?
This expression of Whitman’s wanderlust reminds me of a quote from the author Wallace Stegner : “It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.”
Do you think that Whitman is referring to something specific that he is personally searching for ? Or is he speaking on behalf of the many pioneers who moved westward searching for new lives?