Guest poem submitted by Flavia:
(Poem #1760) Leaves of Grass, Section 14, Poem 6
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, and from women, and 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.
Every now and then new symbols and achetypes get added to the strange tangle we call the Western Culture. Everybody, wave to the guy who managed to add that green stuff under your feet. This poem is far from the only time Walt Whitman mentions grass, but it is the most memorable. And the truth is, grass *is* fascinating. The only plant that grows on every continent, including Antarctica, that can grow twenty meters high, or just be microscopic green fuzz, that grows in sweet water as well as in salt deserts. *Every* culture on earth that has left the hunter-gatherer stage is based on grass, whether it's wheat, corn, oats, rice, spelt, rye, etc. (Sorry, my Alter hanging over my shoulder points out that there are herding cultures that subsists on meat-and-milk. I should have said every *settled* culture. Mea culpa.) In the symbolic flower language, grass means humility, and in the bible it symbolises decay and the briefness of life. In this poem Walt Whitman turns this around. And he called his collected works "Leaves of Grass". Cool, huh? Flavia.