Date of Award
John Wargacki, Ph.D
Mary Balkun, Ph.D
Whitman, Grass, Nature, Lilacs, Rebirth, The Cycle of Life and Death, Flowers
In Emerson’s essay “The Poet,” he writes that we have “no genius in America” and that we need to find a poet who can be America’s Shakespeare. He continues to say that “America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination…” Not long after Emerson published “The Poet,” Walt Whitman emerged becoming “The Poet” that Emerson was seeking to find. Whitman soon became the “one who would sing of the new country in a new voice.”
In 1855, Whitman published his first edition of Leaves of Grass and shed light to the wonderful landscapes that America had to offer. One of his focuses laid on the idea that grass was a universal aspect of nature. For Whitman, grass played an important role in the cycle of life and death being continuous. “…[T]he grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is” (359) was usually found throughout the year and didn’t rely on a tree or fence to grow.
Another thing that was represented through grass was what laid underneath it and above it. In “Song of Myself,” Whitman says “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, / If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles” (1339-1340). Below grass laid dirt, roots, soil, and most importantly, the dead while flowers, greens, and life was found above grass. However, the concept of life and death is intertwined according to Whitman. In “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” he says “Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring” (47) and “O death, I cover you with roses and early lilies” (50). Bringing flowers to the dead is connected just as the grass that grows on the dirt in which the dead lay is connected. Whitman’s idea that a simple element of nature such as grass can be seen in a number of different dimensions showed how his view of America was different than any other artist to come before his time.
Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass explores many themes, symbols, and ideas, but the one common factor that each of his poems reflect is the natural world, whether it is the season, landscapes, animals, plants, flowers, or grass. One of the reasons Whitman celebrates elements of the natural world is because he believed that human beings were already a part of nature and they would continue their journey with nature after death. Two of his poems, “Song of Myself” and ““When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” reflect this idea. “Song of Myself” explores the idea of grass while “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” explores flowers, specifically lilacs. While these two poems discuss different parts of nature, Whitman still incorporates and explores the cycle of life and death, hope and faith, and rebirth.
Patel, Priya, "Natural Elements Representing the Cycle of Life and Death through Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”" (2016). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). 2193.