‘What is the Grass?’


Stop this day and night with me and you
shall possess the origin of all poems.

You shall possess the good of the earth and the sun there are millions of suns left,

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…
Nor look through the eyes of the dead…nor feed on the spectres in books;

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

I have heard what the talkers were talking…the
talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now.
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

To elaborate is no avail…Learned and unlearned feel
That is so.

Sure as the most certain sure…plumb in the uprights,
well entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery, here we stand.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst,
age vexes age;
Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things while
they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.

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
anymore than he.

The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections,
They scorn the best I can do to relate them.

These are thoughts of all men in all ages and lands-
they are not original with me;
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing,
If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle
they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant
they are nothing.

Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams;
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of
every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore;
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me,
shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

I am the teacher of athletes;
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own, proves
the width of my own;
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy
the teacher.

I teach straying from me- yet who can stray from me?
I follow you, whoever you are, from the present hour;
My words itch at your ears till you understand them.

I do not say these things for a dollar, or to fill up the time
while I wait for a boat;
It is you talking just as much as myself-I act as the
tongue of you; tied in your mouth, in mine it begins to
be loosened.

Walt Whitman
‘Leaves of Grass’
Selected Verses