In last week’s post, I began a two-part explanation of Walt Whitman’s title “Leaves of Grass.” The “Leaves” refers simply to pages, as in pages of poetry, of which Whitman’s book is of course composed. Now it’s on to the “Grass” part.
I base my understanding of what Whitman meant on the accompanying image, which reads:
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with fullhands;How could I answer the child? I do not know what it isany more than he.I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopefulgreen stuff woven.
“Grass” then is a symbol for Whitman’s “hopeful disposition.” Indeed, if he were a bad poet, he might have even titled his book “Pages of Poetry About Hope.” Fortunately he did not.
What is Whitman hopeful about? I would answer nearly everything. But, perhaps, he is the most hopeful about America and its bright people. Today, we can only hope we have not let him down.