Student Question

What is the figurative expression in this poem and how does it reflect the personality of the grass?

Expert Answers

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Throughout the poem, Carl Sandburg uses the literary device of personification. He identifies the grass as an active, living being with human-like emotions and thoughts. The poet also employs first-person perspective. As the speaker, the grass communicates their reflections on recent occurrences and the activities in which they have been involved. In some cases, the grass shows agency: they are the actor who does things. In other cases, however, the grass is a passive participant in events.

The poet also uses second-person or direct address. The grass issues orders to another party, saying “Pile the bodies high” and “Let me work.” In addition, he includes dialogue in the form of the passengers’ questions such as “Where are we now?” Sandburg includes numerous allusions to warfare by naming the locations of battles, about which the passenger could ask that question. These battle occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The fact that the grass is still alive emphasizes their role as a survivor of all the battles that they mention. In addition, grass takes a while to grow ("two years, ten years") and "cover all" the earth—including that of battlefields, where blood was spilled, and graves where the war casualties are buried. Another important aspect of grass is that it grows low to the ground and spreads by the roots; it is not a tall tree. These three aspects in combination make the grass suitable to represent the aftermath of war, the slow recovery, and the ongoing normality of daily life that is slowly restored.

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