Monday, 13 May 2013

Poetry Reads: A Child said, What is the Grass? by Walt Whitman

A Child said, What is the Grass? by Walt Whitman is a poem that reveals the curiosity of a child. It also reveals the ignorance of a grown up to describe 'grass', which is almost a really underestimated form of vegetation. What is truly revealing and beautiful is the guesswork he offers to describe grass.

'A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
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
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same'.

Thereafter, grass has been guessed as several representations of the flag of the spirit, a kerchief of God, the child himself/herself and democracy. In the rest of the poem, he defines grass as the elixir of life as it has always been there:

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

Towards the end of the poem, there is a mention of calamity and deaths brought on by war:

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

However the poem ends in a note of hope with grass being a representation of the continuity of life:

'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'.

There is also a hint at spirituality and death is discussed as something lucky.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

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