Discussion Topic

The symbolism of grass representing the life-death cycle in "Song of Myself."


The grass in "Song of Myself" symbolizes the life-death cycle by representing both growth and decay. Whitman uses grass to illustrate the interconnectedness of life and death, suggesting that death is not an end but a continuation of life's natural process. The grass grows from the earth, nourished by the bodies of the dead, symbolizing renewal and the perpetuity of existence.

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In section 6 of "Song of Myself," how does grass symbolize the life-death cycle?

In Section 6 of "Song of Myself" Whitman uses the imagery of grass to explore the theme of death and rebirth. The child asks the speaker what seems like a fairly simple question: "What is grass?" But the speaker is unable to give a definitive answer. Instead, he can only offer possible suggestions, one of which is that the grass is itself a child, growing out of the realm of death into a new life.

Grass indicates the presence of life, even in the setting of a graveyard. The grass sprouts from among the graves, this "beautiful, uncut hair" showing us that there is really no death. And even if there were such a thing, it would merely lead towards new life. That's why for Whitman grass is a sign of hope corresponding to his naturally optimistic disposition.

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How does the image of grass represent life and death cycle in "Song of Myself," section 6?

About halfway through section 6 of "Song of Myself," Whitman writes that the grass, clutched by a child, could be "itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation." Here Whitman implies that, relative perhaps to the rest of the universe, the grass clutched by the child is young, new, and hence like a "child" or "babe." A little later in the same section of the poem, Whitman writes that the grass seems to be "the beautiful uncut hair of graves." This evokes an image of grass growing from the earth over unkempt graves, and this associates the grass with death. Thus, with these two lines, Whitman uses the same image of grass to connect birth and death and, in using the same image for both, implies the unending cycle from one to the other.

Later in section 6, Whitman continues with the idea that the grass represents the hair of the Earth, and he begins to imagine what kind of person or persons the Earth might be that would produce such hair. He notes that the grass is "very dark to be from the white heads of old Mothers," and he speculates that the grass, or hair, might be "from offspring taken / Soon out of their mothers' laps." Thinking on whether the hair might be that of infants or "old Mothers," Whitman then begins to ponder the nature of life and death. He says that the "smallest sprout" of grass "shows there is really no death," meaning that death is necessary for life as life is necessary for death. Grass grows even from the graves of the dead, and thus the grass represents that from death there emerges life.

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