What is the grass?

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 dropt,
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, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ 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?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows 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 ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

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

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you, S.G., for bringing this beautiful Whitman gem to my attention. It’s complex and lovely.

  2. Yes, a gem as grass itself, especially the scent when freshly mowed.

  3. What a beautiful collection of drawings and paintings on your blog. Such a pleasure to see how some people, throughout history, have been taking care of all the fanastic details of life (and death). Thank you!

    • Thank you very much. That’s exactly how I feel. In all the languages, antiquated or foreign; in all the lands, small or wild, unilluminated, unaware of the other side of the world–or confused about the sky—-always curiosity, and a ferocious desire to make sense of things; courage, and the persistance to see what’s out there—far, far away; the same tenderness toward their children we feel for ours; the valiant attempt to live a moral life: to treat animals gently, to cultivate the earth & admire its beauty—
      And then, of course the fantastic abilities to helps us see what they saw with unbelievable artistic skill & eloquent language.
      I know I’m at a very elementary stage in a broken and long-abandoned education, and that my–well I’ll call it, laughably, understanding–is weak, and that my approach is scattershot. But somehow my impulse keeps leading me to themes that end up inter-related in the deepest & most harmonious ways.
      —-And god bless the internet. Not a million visits to the best university libraries would have allowed me to see what I’ve seen, and stumble so quickly into such rich tangles of history.
      And it makes me really happy to have someone share my impressions.
      —-Of course, if I could create, as you do—I’d be on a whole different, and I have to say, more deeply satisfying track. But we do what we can do.
      And I guess i learned from my mother to be an appreciator, if less of a contributor than I secretly, fervently wish, to the world.
      ANYWAY.
      It’s lovely to hear from you, and I do hope this odd collection provides for a few others just a little of the great pleasure it has brought me.


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