A child said, What is the grass?

A child said, What is the grass?

Children are able to ask the most interesting questions. The poem A child said, What is the grass is about these questions. This poem written by Walt Whitman is truly a work of art. It’s part of a much larger poem entitled Song of myself. It’s the sixth chapter of this poem that is included in Leaves of grass.

Leaves of Grass was considered a failure by critics of his time. Now we can only conclude this was his Magnum Opus.


We claim to possess knowledge. Still, there are some questions that are hard to answer for an adult. I remember my son when he asked the question why sheep did not shrink in the rain. He found it strange that wool wouldn’t shrink. I got out of this the easy way when I told him that he should ask his teacher. His kindergarten teacher didn’t feel like she wanted to answer his question, so she replied that he should ask something else. That is also a way to parade around those questions….


Back to the poem that Walt Whitman wrote. What is the grass? Is it a sort-off flag made of green stuff? Woven from nothing more than his hopes? Just like the child that asks him this question, he finds grass to be a child.

The most beautiful description in this poem is the assumption that it is the uncut hair of graves. We all know about the cemeteries where the ground is covered with grass.

Interesting to know, Whitman made grass also into something human: it comes from the breasts of young men. Or those who are of old age.

This poem doesn’t contain rhyme, as most of the work Whitman left us. It is free verse, this form of poetry. A type of poetry that wasn’t well received in his time. The true beauty of his literary legacy was recognized fully after his passing in 1892. Then people began to analyse the poems more, instead of focussing on the absence of rhyme or meter.

When it comes to this poem, it is about democracy. Or rather: the ideals that define democracy. The grass is, in fact, this thing that can unite, despite the social classes, religions or race. Because grass is something that is a “product” of nature, one can only conclude that this connects everyone. Wise words, especially when taking into consideration that this poem seems to be the result of a question asked by a child. In this poem, the child stands for the innocence we all have inside ourselves. This isn’t just limited to those who haven’t reached adulthood. Remember those moments in your life, regardless of your age, when you were able to see or recognize something beautiful. Whether it is a natural phenomenon, love or even the way a country is ruled (democracy). It doesn’t matter. As long as you are open to beauty, things will be alright.

This poem doesn’t differ from other poems by Whitman: it is a constant flow of words that read like they were written only yesterday… maybe even today!

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


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

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


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


Walt Whitman