A Spear of Summer Grass


Patti Smith, late 1980’s

 

14

1

I CELEBRATE myself;
And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass. 5

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it; 10
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

Walt Whitman

Song of Myself (Excerpt)

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson praised the first edition of Leaves of Grass as “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed…. I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” To be precise, the career was already well-launched; only Whitman’s career as America’s “good grey poet” was newly minted. Why “Leaves” of “Grass,” however? A leaf of grass is a stalk, of course; yet in printer’s terms a leaf is also a page in a book. In this sense “Leaves of Grass” are pages in a book about–if we consider it further–the most commonplace plant-life on earth. The grass that Whitman invites us to “loaf” upon with him is stuff that grows everywhere; and while he can, if he wishes, observe “a spear” of that “summer grass,” he also knows it comes in all types and kinds. The “grass” thus becomes his symbol of democracy.

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