Grass Questions and Answers
by Carl Sandburg

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Connect "Grass" by Carl Sandburg to "Abandoned Farmhouse" by Ted Kooser. The connection may be a conflict or a theme, a speaker or a character--maybe content. Use at least 1 quote from each poem to help show the connections. 

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A common theme that connects Sandburg's "Grass" and Kooser's "Abandoned Farmhouse" is that facts prevail despite absence or death. When voices are silenced, factual evidence or historical facts often render unique stories about the human condition.

In "Grass," the verdure envelops the land where millions of soldiers have met their doom. Yet, the historical facts pertaining to Austerlitz, Waterloo, Ypres, Gettysburg, and Verdun prevail despite the absence of fallen soldiers to tell their story. In "Abandoned Farmhouse," the inhabitants have long since vacated their property, but their stories are told in the personal artifacts they have left behind.

As we read through Grass, we notice that the fields of war have hidden the evidence of past conflict: there are no bodies in sight, no weapons of warfare are evident, and all traces of spilled blood have been washed away by the elements. Yet, the stories of these fields of war are told to succeeding generations of interested tourists by conductors on tour buses.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:            What place is this? Where are we now?

Historical facts may render imperfect portraits of the past, but they are often the only link to man's history. In "Abandoned Farmhouse," we note the same absence of human presence. However, the past inhabitants have left evidence of their lives in their scattered belongings. From these, we know that a man lived at the farmhouse with his wife and child before the premises were vacated. The poem tells us that the husband was a "big man" due to the "size of his shoes" and a "tall man" according to the length of his bed.

A woman had lived with him, as the bedroom was "papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves covered with oilcloth." There was a child, because of the presence of a "sandbox made from a tractor tire" and the toys strewn in the yard. The poet pronounces ominously that "Something went wrong." Evidence tells us that the man was a poor farmer: the fields were cluttered with boulders, the barn was leaky, and the yard was choked with weeds. The woman, though industrious, from the "jars of plum preserves and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole," was said to have "left in a nervous haste." The poet continues to reinforce the hastiness of the departure by describing the toys strewn in the yard like "branches after a storm."

The word "storm" hints at conflict and strife. Was the family in financial trouble? Certainly, "money was scarce," the poet tells us; the windows were barricaded with rags to keep out the cold and there were jars of preserved produce that testified to valiant efforts to stave off hunger. The facts tell us that the inhabitants left in a hurry and that they left because life at the farmhouse had become untenable. All evidence points to financial hardship, but the finer details of human neuroses and dysfunction can only be guessed at or inferred.

So it is with the fields of war. We will always rely on historical documents and correspondences to testify to the larger conflict between opposing forces and even archaeological evidence to support our interpretations of history, but minute details may never be fully known. Nevertheless, however imperfectly, history often speaks for those whose voices have been silenced forever.

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