What is the significance of grass in Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"?

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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.

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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.

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In "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, what is the symbolism of the grass?

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; 
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt, 
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,

Growing among black folks as among white, 
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

This passage comes from the 6th section of "Song of Myself". It demonstrates some of the differing Whitman has for what the grass actually is. As a transcendentalist, Whitman sees that the grass can represent a variety of thoughts or ideas. Whitman's musings demonstrate that he might not have any better chance at knowing than a child. He further believes that the grass might represent personality, or that which catches the Lord happiness and sadness, or a regular symbol of time or record, or the cycle of life.

The common theme in these various representations of grass would be the identity of man over time as he changes. This theme rings true with the deeper meaning of the poem as a whole. It also fits the condition of life. Grass grows, withers, and dies. It takes on an identity to the people who use it.

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