Sandburg's "Grass" is a three-stanza poem in free
verse with simple words
expressing a profound message. Free verse ignores
standard rules of meter
in favor of the rhythms of ordinary conversation. In
effect, free verse
liberates poetry from conformity to rigid metrical
rules that dictate stress patterns and the number of
syllables per line.
French poets originated free verse (or vers
libre) in the 1880s,
although earlier poems of Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
and other writers exhibited
characteristics of free verse.
Holt and Company first published "Grass" in New York
in 1918 in a collection
of one hundred three poems entitled
Cornhuskers. Sandburg won a Pulitzer Prize
for this collection and another one for his
Complete Poems, published
humans kill one another in recurring wars, they let
nature cover up their
forget the lessons of history. Consequently, they
repeat the mistakes that
caused the wars of the past.
forget the fallen heroes of war after several years
pass and grass repairs
goes about its business dispassionately and
ineluctably even in wartime.
the poem in first-person point of view. The words
phrases suggest a sarcastic tone. Nature seems
frustrated that humankind
cannot learn from its mistakes and instead allows
the grass simply to cover
them up. People pay so little heed to their tragic
errors of the past that
they do not even recognize a battlefield site when
they see it. ("What
place is this? Where are we now?") Another
interpretation suggests that
the tone is objective and impassive: Grass has a job
to do, and as surely
as rivers flow and thunder rumbles, it does what it
has to do.
the bodies high at
Austerlitz and Waterloo.
them under and let
am the grass; I cover all.
pile them high at Gettysburg
pile them high at Ypres
them under and let
years, ten years, and
passengers ask the conductor:
place is this?
are we now?
am the grass.
dominant figure of speech
in the poem is personification, which turns the
grass into a person who
observes wars and cleans up after them. An implied
metaphor equates grass
with time, which erases memories of war. The battles
referred to call up
images of great carnage, as indicated in the
following details about the
Major battle of the Napoleonic wars, fought on
December 2, 1805. Nearly
25,000 men died. Napoleon Bonaparte and his army of
nearly 70,000 soldiers
defeated a force of Russians and Austrians numbering
about 90,000. Austerlitz
is in the present-day Czech Republic.
battle of the Napoleonic wars, fought near Waterloo,
Belgium, on June 18,
1815, and resulting in more than 60,000 casualties.
British forces under
the Duke of Wellington, General Arthur Wellesley,
and Prussian forces under
Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
combined to defeat Napoleon.
battle of the U.S. Civil War in which Union forces
of General George G.
Meade defeated Confederate forces under General
Robert E. Lee near the
small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1-3,
1863, resulting in
45,000 to 50,000 casualties. The battle turned the
tide of the war in favor
of the Union.
E pruh): Town in Belgium that was the site of three
major World War I battles
(October-November 1914, April-May 1915, and
July-November 1917) that resulted
in more than 850,000 German and allied
World War I battle between the French and the
Germans fought at Verdun,
France, from February to December, 1916. Total
casualties numbered more
Questions and Writing Topics
1. In an
essay, compare and
contrast the attitude of nature toward war in
Sandburg's "Grass" and Stephen
Crane's The Red Badge of Courage.
2. Does the
fact that many
war memorials, statues, cannons, and plaques dot the
landscape at the site
of the Battle of Gettysburg contradict Sandburg's
contention that people
forget about war and its fallen heroes?
the effect of
Sandburg's repetition of key words and phrases in
absence of end rhyme
strengthen or weaken the poem?
a short poemwith
or without rhymeexpressing your feelings about war.