Walt Whitman

(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892 / New York / United States)

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A child said, 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 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.

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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Read poems about / on: women, child, mother, dark, beautiful, children, hair, green, red, people, death, woman

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Comments about this poem (A child said, What is the grass? by Walt Whitman )

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  • * Sunprincess * (6/18/2014 10:14:00 AM)

    ..........the curiosity of this child has taken us from what is the grass....to what has happened to the men and women.....love the poet's view of death....very nicely written... (Report) Reply

  • Francis Lynch (6/11/2014 4:23:00 PM)

    Why bring God into the meaning of anything? (Report) Reply

    * Sunprincess * (6/18/2014 10:17:00 AM)

    ............cause the majority of us believe there is a supreme being, who is our creator....and most of us call him God....he has many different names.... hope this helps to answer your question...

  • Surajit Banerjee (6/2/2014 4:05:00 AM)

    The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
    And if ever there was it led forward life - the eternal bliss a wonderful gift to the world by Indian Philosophy. (Report) Reply

  • Surajit Banerjee (6/2/2014 3:58:00 AM)

    The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
    And if ever there was it led forward life - the eternal bliss an wonderful gift to the world by Indian Philosophy. (Report) Reply

  • Cambridge Keenan (7/14/2013 11:02:00 PM)

    A clever and fascinating poem....it is pure wonder, the quests of a child seeking answers...I remember when my boy saved a worms life and oh the knowledge he sought after even to this day :) I really like this poem, as my mom is now 90 years of age...this is heart felt for me :) (Report) Reply

  • Miroslava Odalovic (6/11/2013 8:36:00 AM)

    This is, has always been one of the most important poems ever written, opening the questions of existence dating back to Old Greek wonder at creation to the modern negative attitude to life being endlessly piled over life, in an almost absurd way, and whenever I read I have a feeling that Whitman has incorporated almost all the shades standing between, beginning with awesome divinity to a highly ambiguous depiction of death 'luckier' when we think, depending on what luck means for each individual person. The layers of historical thinking summerized in an apparently short piece of writing. (Report) Reply

  • Deci Hernandez (6/11/2012 4:07:00 PM)

    I was wondering after the grass is plucked why then does it's color remain and it's form not instantly stiff'n. it can even still can be woven. (Report) Reply

  • Pranab K Chakraborty (6/11/2012 9:21:00 AM)

    After a long reading, one thing is clear from this specific poem, the child is Whitman himself and deliberately wants to communicate a truth.......

    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.

    Here the asker and the answerer....both the poet plays within a single conscious. Nice. (Report) Reply

  • Sarsha C (5/31/2012 9:40:00 PM)

    I suppose when you sit and ponder something it is about opening your mine to more then one possibility in life and questions does any one person have all the information to answer any question is anything more then a metaphor or just some ones opinion, Is there fact or fiction I guess it could be both. (Report) Reply

  • Leah Harden (1/13/2012 11:45:00 AM)

    I love how it uses grass to explain the circle of life. He explains that those who die (their beards, their hair, the young or the old) nurture and feed the grass to grow and hence life continues around and around never ending and never waisting anything symbolising no ending only a new beginning. All that is lost can be re sewn, giving life to the grass and forming why and what it stands for an might be. Beautiful (Report) Reply

  • Stan Petrovich (6/11/2011 9:40:00 AM)

    Whitman can go on writing like that forever. The 'wordiest' poet ever, except for maybe Ginsberg. (Report) Reply

  • Juan Olivarez (6/11/2010 9:43:00 AM)

    I am no expert, and I just finnished reading Walt Whitmans leaves of grass and I must say that I did not find it at all enlightening. I do not know what all of the raves are about, but to me he just seems to ramble on and on, jumping from one subject to the other.That is just my humble opinion, and like I said I am no expert. (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (6/11/2010 7:24:00 AM)

    Nope. It don't do it for me. Grass is grass. All flesh is grass. A fancy border round a plain picture which could stand by itself. A too-elaborate and unnecessary rif on a good old song. Don't deceive a child, the Bible says, don't say you cannot when you can. A poet preening himself with his poetical verbosity. There is something false and inbred about this poem. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (6/11/2010 2:17:00 AM)

    The child may have asked a simple question to know the truth; but it requires a philosophical analysis to answer for the child to know the truth! It has provoked Whitman to give a long answer by this explorative poetry very nice! (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (6/11/2009 5:02:00 PM)

    OK I get it, I thought as I read the comments posted by POEWHIT et al about Whitman's 'A child said, What is the grass? ' It is all those things that Whitman imagined in the poem, as well as what you think it means. Poewhit said the poem captures 'the cycle of life, ' OK I say so what? Mahlanga's drivel about 'a new view of life' means nothing to a reader like me who eschews propaganda like his! Maybe a handkerchief deposited by God is the best poetic expression of all, I just don't know! Do you, dear reader? (Report) Reply

  • Joseph Poewhit (6/11/2009 9:03:00 AM)

    Whitman and his understanding of life captures the cycle of life. Grass grows and renews each year. Only for life to trim it. (Report) Reply

  • Tsg Mahlangu (6/11/2009 4:53:00 AM)

    Life can be viewed in different forms and many have and may want to know about what exactly life entails, reading this poem has enabled me to change my mind set completetly and have a new view of life, hence life at times can give us what we aspire.I for one am on your side and say you are absolutely correct Whitman, TSG M. (Report) Reply

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