Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
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.
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
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
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
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
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
The above, which is part of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, is one of my favorite pieces of poetry. I thought of it in connection with this prompt because June 14 is Flag Day in the U.S. I’ve always loved the line about the grass being "the flag of my disposition out of hopeful green stuff woven."
However, this prompt is not about flags. It’s about whats! As in,''[A] child said what is the grass" that opens Whitman’s pom. Yes, it is very much about grass, but it also winds from and through grass to handkerchiefs to hints to the tongues of mothers and the mouths of graves.
I invite you to pick something--anything--and to write its “what”. As in, “what is the---?”
|"What is the non-grass?"|
You do not have to begin your poem, with “what is the?” or “A child said what is the--” though you should feel free to use either of those phrases if one of them helps you get going.
Also note that your poem does not have to be nearsly so long as Whitman’s and can take any form, even- dare I say it? -a haiku! It also down’t need to be heavy or profound, comic is fine.
ps, the pics are all mine, Karin Gustafson (ManicDdaily), and all rights are reserved. Feel free to use one, but please give proper credit. Thanks.