“What is the grass?”

 

 

 

1 Finland.jpg

photograph by Elisabeth van der Meer

 

 

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

 

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

 

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

 

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

 

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

 

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

 

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

 

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

 

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

 

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

 

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

 

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I wish to thank Elisabeth van der Meer for sharing the above photograph with me, and for giving me permission to post it.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 6, 2018

 

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
This entry was posted in general interest, photographic, Walt Whitman and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “What is the grass?”

  1. elisabethm says:

    That’s a beautiful poem!

  2. Thanks, Elisabeth. And, thanks for sharing the beautiful photo.

    Walt Whitman is in a class by himself. For example, he says (as only he can put it), of grass: “I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven. …. Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, … Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . . the produced babe of the vegetation. … And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” … Tenderly will I use you curling grass, … The smallest sprouts show there is really no death.”

  3. elisabethm says:

    Most definitely in a class by himself, the way he describes the grass makes you look at grass from a whole new perspective.

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