Walt Whitman is often considered to be a larger-than-life poet, writing expansive lines and embracing the whole of America as his inspiration. In “Song of Myself” (Part 31), however, he...

Walt Whitman is often considered to be a larger-than-life poet, writing expansive lines and embracing the whole of America as his inspiration. In “Song of Myself” (Part 31), however, he writes, “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars.” How does Whitman call attention to small objects in “Song of Myself”? Why do you think he called his life's work Leaves of Grass? What does “a leaf of grass” mean to Whitman? To you?

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Today in America we would probably say “Blades of Grass,” but the metaphor speaks to the infinitude of things – stars, individual leaves, individual blades of grass, individual grains of sand, individual drops of rain or flakes of snow, and human individuals.  He recognized and understood the mature notion that, while each of us thinks of ourselves as a unique entity (and rightly so, since we have a “self” consciousness), we form together another entity, be it the starry night sky, the sandy beach, the vast grasslands of the prairie, the deluge of a river or ocean, the blizzard of a winter’s day. Whitman is saying “Our unique individuality is beautiful, useful, important, because together we make up the universe. We are 'leaves of grass.' In that sense we are like a star in the sky – a single manifestation of the fact of universal unity."  So, in describing his own life, he is sharing with us this unity, this marvelous facticity.