A Child Said What is the Grass By Walt Whitman

A Child Said What is the Grass Summary for BA English Honours Semester 3 BBMKU University. Two questions have been solved here; the first summary of the poem and the second critical appreciation of it.

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A Child Said What is the Grass

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 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 you are from old people, or from offspring taken,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them, 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.

A Child Said What is the Grass Summary

This poem begins with a child asking, “What is the grass?” The speaker thinks that it is hard to answer the child because he hardly knows better than the child. He tries to find possible responses to the query:

  1. He resembles the grass, “the flag of my disposition,” woven from his hopes. Then he calls it the “handkerchief of the Lord,” intended to remind us of His power.
  2. He called the grass also a child of vegetation. He then calls it a “uniform hieroglyphic,” indicating that it is the symbol of equality.
  3. He also compares the grass with the “beautiful uncut hair of graves.”

He says he’ll “tenderly utilize” the grass while considering the possibilities for its origin. It could originate from those breasts of men of a certain age who he may have loved. It could have come out from the remains of elderly people or women, or even children who passed away too young. The speaker says that the grass appears very dark and could originate from the hair that was white of elderly mothers or the dull beards of men who are older. The speaker is trying to convey the grass’s hints about the people beneath it. He wants to know readers’ opinions about what happened to these people, women, and children. The reader replies to his question. He determines that they’re alive and well in some place; the grass’s sprouts suggest that death isn’t permanent as it is a pathway to a new beginning. He concludes that the process of dying is different and “luckier” than he previously believed.

A Child Said What is the Grass Critical Appreciation

Whitman’s poem, “A child said, What is the grass?” is not structured in rhyme or structure. It is constructed of stanzas of different lengths written in a stream-of-consciousness style. The unruly structure is a key element in the poem, where the writer cannot answer an innocent child’s question: “what is the grass?” Sometimes, there are stanzas with one line, which usually start with “I think” or “it appears,” which suggests it is the case that the author may be simply describing the various responses when they come to him instead of forming a complete and comprehensive evaluation. Although much of the text is composed of different ways of defining the grass, the last verse is the speaker’s question: What has become of the dead buried in the earth? In the two stanzas that follow, he addresses the question for himself.

The poem reflects the democratic ideals that echo throughout the poetry of Whitman, particularly in the stanza where Whitman argues that the grass is a “uniform hieroglyph” that can unite all people without regard to race, profession, or social standing. Whitman reminds the reader that nature is the common thread that connects all humans and that our differences are unimportant. The phrase “I give them the same, I receive them the same” represents Whitman’s advice that humans follow the example of grass and similarly treat each other.

Death is the central motif in this poem that turns the innocent child’s question into a darker space. Whitman integrates every aspect of human nature into his poems since, according to him, death is an integral element of nature and life. Whitman believes death is a sign of a beginning, not an end. The grass grows, then dies, and re-emerges in a continuous cycle. Whitman believes that life for humans is identical.

Like “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman makes something mundane like grass seem remarkable and unique. He takes this seemingly unimportant object and gives it significance, turning it into an emblem of the human state. Through this, the author challenges his readers to reflect on the world around them, just like the children initially discovering the world around them.

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