What is the significance of Grass in Walt Whitman's Song of myself?
The significance of Grass, in American poet Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”, as part of his epic work “Leaves of Grass” is that a single blade of grass represents an individual in society. The man in the poem is “…observing a spear of summer grass.” This causes him to ponder the human condition and the thoughts and actions of human beings. This blade or spear of grass is amongst an innumerable host of leaves of grass. It is a representation of this grass, as well as distinct and separate (as an individual blade) from this multitude.
This is the same with people. We are all part of the human family. We are also distinct, unique individuals of this group. When the man ponders the blade of grass he is thinking about man (exemplified by the blade) and his purpose on the earth.
Right off the bat, in this section of “Leaves of Grass”, Whitman alludes to the fact that we come from the dust of the earth. Spears of grass arise from the dirt. Man is created of the dust of the earth and Whitman states in this poem that, “My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, …” He sees some similarities here between flora and human beings. The soil begets a multitude of grass; the soil begot human beings through a creative act. This is definitely alluded to here, regardless of one’s belief system.
It seems that Whitman is relating the life of a blade of grass to a human life. Grass strives to survive daily and eventually meets its end. So does man. Grass, so-to-speak, greets each day and exists and functions. So do we, as living beings. Whitman notes “… the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.” This is what spears of grass do each morning – awake and meet the sun.
Whitman is satisfied with what he sees of himself – internally and physically. A fine blade of grass also has its inherent beauty and wonderfulness of form. Whitman is celebrating himself, and by extension all humans, as he celebrates the blade of grass that is causing him to think deeply. He is satisfied and says so, “I am satisfied – I see, dance, laugh, sing.…”
Grass represents all humans, collectively and individually, and what each faces in life. Whitman talks of all that one can worry about. This includes, among others listed, inventions, societies, dress, associates, love of others, sickness of loved ones, and lack of money. The difference being that the grass carries on unworried, while people do not have that luxury.
People must face life differently than unthinking grass and deal with issues. People must carry on and create and produce, and do the things they are accustomed to doing, despite challenges. There will always be grass. There will always be people living; “…the book-keeper counts at his desk, the shoemaker waxes his thread,…”
Life, in its complexities, as well as mundane acts, continues on its survival plan, just like leaves of grass.
Grass is one of a number of plants described by Whitman in this poem. Plants in general are symbols of growth, regeneration, decay, and the beauty of nature. Grass in particular functions as metaphor for humanity and the common human experience. Many blades of grass, all similar in shape, grow together to form the mat of grass beneath our feet. Grass is also a metaphor for democracy: one blade of grass is weak, but united with many others, becomes stronger and more significant.