out of hopeful green stuff woven

Surely Walt Whitman’s daily ritual consisted of walking barefoot in the damp grass, along a gravel path and down to the shoreline, scruffy beard and wild breath all mist and warmth, his mind a pent-up aching river ready to splash onto the page.  I am not sure at all how my wanderings led me to his “Song of Myself” this morning, but re-reading it is fuel for the spirit, hunched over and sulking at this stack of student papers.  May you also find some unexpected moments of joy this day!

from Song of Myself

VI

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 mother's 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.

– See more at: poets.org

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Comments

  1. I love his last line you quoted – one of the mysteries of life. sadly, I hadn’t read Whitman before, but I will now. Thanks :).

  2. Regarding Whitman’s last line, here’s another one I love. Doty wrote these poems after his beloved’s death, and I’ve always loved his imagery in this one. Enjoy!

    A Green Crab’s Shell
    by Mark Doty

    Not, exactly, green:
    closer to bronze
    preserved in kind brine,

    something retrieved
    from a Greco-Roman wreck,
    patinated and oddly

    muscular. We cannot
    know what his fantastic
    legs were like–

    though evidence
    suggests eight
    complexly folded

    scuttling works
    of armament, crowned
    by the foreclaws’

    gesture of menace
    and power. A gull’s
    gobbled the center,

    leaving this chamber
    –size of a demitasse–
    open to reveal

    a shocking, Giotto blue.
    Though it smells
    of seaweed and ruin,

    this little traveling case
    comes with such lavish lining!
    Imagine breathing

    surrounded by
    the brilliant rinse
    of summer’s firmament.

    What color is
    the underside of skin?
    Not so bad, to die,

    if we could be opened
    into this–
    if the smallest chambers

    of ourselves,
    similarly,
    revealed some sky.

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