Sometimes, when I read a poem, I feel the urge to hum, a true sign of happiness; and one of my go-to songs is “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.” Of course, I can’t hum that tune without thinking of B. J. Thomas singing it on the radio and watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the 1969 western starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross. Ross played the role of Etta Place, the beautiful school teacher who rode with Butch Cassidy on a bicycle built for one.
On April 17, 2021, the Wall Street Journal printed the sixth stanza of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” next to his portrait at forty-two-years old as part of an essay by Mark Edmundson called, “Walt Whitman Knew About American Democracy.” When I saw it, I paused, then I read the article and the verses twice. The theme is timeless. In 1855, when Whitman was in his late thirties, he wrote a volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass. “Song of Myself” is part of that collection; in it, he uses the pronoun I in a cosmic way, and he uses grass as a metaphor for democracy.
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same,
I receive them the same.
Mark Edmundson’s essay reveals the beauty and power of poetry; Whitman’s metaphor for democracy still rings true. Many blades of grass can merge to be one. Poets are brilliant teachers. They know how to simplify.
As crocus pop their colored heads
The signs of spring wash out my dreads.
As trees and grass await the scene
The smell of freshly dark turned soil
Will welcome planting and lawn toil.
For friends and neighbors at my gate
Fresh pansies, lavender and thyme
All complete that glass of wine!
With Joanne’s poetry in mind, I have no doubt that we will gather again. And like Whitman’s grass, the one and the many will merge.