Fields and Plants

A song of the good green grass!
A song of the soil of the fields,
A song with the smell of sun-dried hay,
A song tasting of new wheat, and of fresh-husk’d
The chant of joy and power for boundless fertility:

O the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides,
The measureless pasturages, the placid pastoral plains,
The broad muscular fields, the grass-fields of the world,
Grazing lands sweet and free as savannah or upland or prairie.
I thought my eyes had never looked on scenes of greater pastoral beauty—
How freeing, soothing, nourishing they are to the soul.

What most impress’d me, and will longest remain with me, are these prairies,
Land of sweet-air’d interminable plateaus, the table-lands notched with ravines,
Land of the wild ravine, the lonesome stretch, the silence,
The clear, pure, cool, rarefied nutriment for the lungs.
Sun-down shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome prairie,
The peculiar sentiment of moonlight and stars over the great plains,
The receding perspective, and the far circle-line of the horizon all times of day.

One wants new words in writing about these plains—the terms, far, large, vast, etc., are insufficient.
To my eyes, to all my senses—the esthetic one most of all—they silently and broadly unfolded,
Around all the indescribable chiaroscuro and sentiment, (profounder than anything at sea,) athwart these endless wilds,
A calm, pensive, boundless landscape,
That vast something, stretching out on its own unbounded scale, unconfined, combining the real and ideal, and beautiful as dreams.

Others may praise what they like,
But I praise nothing in art or aught else,
Till it has well inhaled the western prairie-scent,
And exudes it all again—
Smelling the earth’s smells,
The prairie-grass dividing, its special odor breathing,
The prevailing delicate, yet palpable, spicy, grassy, clovery perfume,
Dandelions, clover, the emerald grass, the early scents and flowers.

Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows,
This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
Plenty of fair pasture for the cattle, (the plains were own’d by the towns, and this was the use of them in common.)
Long and long has the grass been growing,
The deathless grass, so noiseless soft and green,
The emerald green of the grass spreading everywhere, 
yellow dotted with dandelions,
The liliput countless armies of the manifold grass, the rich coverlet of the eternal grass.

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation,
The beautiful uncut hair of graves,
Sprouts, tokens ever of death indeed the same as life—
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Give me, O deathless grass, of you,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

Something startles me where I thought I was safest.
Is not every continent work’d over and over with sour dead?
As I lay reclining on the grass, how can I not catch some disease?
I do not see how there can be anything but disease,
O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

Earth! Huge tomb-yard of humanity,
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations,
Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you today, or perhaps I am deceiv’d,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

On the far-stretching beauteous landscape, should the dead intrude?
Ah the dead to me mar not, they fit well in nature,
They fit very well in the landscape under the trees and grass.
Different objects decay, and by the chemistry of nature, their bodies are turned into spears of grass,
I feared they would poison me, but they do not,
What chemistry! That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease;
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once catching disease,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.

Behold this compost! behold it well! this compost of billions of premature corpses,
The fields of nature long prepared and fallow, the silent, cyclic chemistry,
The essences of creation, and the changes, and the growth and formations and decays of so large a constituent part of the earth.

Oh dirt, you corpse, I think you are good manure,
But that does not offend me, that I do not smell,
I scent the grass, the moist air, and the roses,
I smell your beautiful white roses, sweet-scented and growing,
I kiss your leafy lips—I slide my hands for the brown melons of your breasts.
O lavish brown parturient earth! O infinite teeming womb!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person—yet behold!
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, with long and rustling leaves.

Now I am terrified at the earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.
A thousand forms shall rise from these dead clods as from low burial graves,
To the garden, the world, anew ascending.

All till’d and untill’d fields expand before me,
Limitless crops, grass, wheat, sugar, corn, rice, hemp, hops,
The shows of all the varied lands and all the growths and
Welcome are all earth’s lands, each for its kind.

Welcome are lands of wheat and maize.
I hear the bustle of growing wheat,
The resurrection of the wheat with pale visage out of its graves,
The yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen,
The bronze and gold of nearly ripen’d wheat,
The young grain bent to the early breeze,
Wheat fields carpeted far and near in vital emerald green.

The tall, graceful, long-leav’d corn,
Slender, flapping, bright green, with tassels, with beautiful ears each well-sheath’d in its husk,
The long and pointed leaves like green or purple ribands, with a yellow stem-line in the middle,
The sturdy stalks, and the rustling in the 
Truly, in color, outline, material and spiritual suggestiveness, where any more inclosing theme for idealist, poet, literary artist?

Sprouts take and accumulate, stand by the curb prolific and vital,
The dusky green of the rye as it ripples and shades in the breeze,
Fields of teff-wheat and places of verdure and gold,
Landscapes projected masculine, full-sized and golden—
Welcome are lands of gold.
Welcome the teeming soil of orchards, flax, honey, hemp, the growing sugar,
The yellow-flower’d cotton plant, the rice in its low moist field,
The white and brown buckwheat, the delicate blue-flower flax.

Welcome are lands of the lemon and fig, tamarind, date, the polish’d breasts of melons,
Welcome those of the grape, the esculent roots of the garden,
the patches of briers and blackberries.
The running blackberries, so flavorous and juicy, would adorn the parlors of heaven,
And huckleberries from the woods distill joyous deliriums,
And those blueberries? Their uselessness growing wild, their content in being let alone—a certain aroma of nature I would so like to have in my pages.
(My favorite dish, currants and raspberries, mixed, sugar’d, fresh and ripe from the bushes,
I go out and pick the currants myself, great red things—how juicy and cool they are!)

Welcome just as much the other more hard-faced lands,
Lands of coal, copper, lead, tin, zinc, lands of iron,
Lands rich as lands of gold or wheat and fruit lands,
The rich ores forming beneath—
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Vexing we and piercing deep the mines within.

O flowers of these interminable and stately prairies! O space boundless!
Ever the far-spreading prairies cover’d with grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn,
Landscapes clumped with sassafras,
Wild flowers, oceans of them, scatter’d in profusion over the fields—
White and red morning-glories, and white and red clover,
The tall leaning of sunflowers on their stalk,
The golden dandelions in endless profusion,
The cactuses, pinks, buffalo grass, wild sage.

Placid mulleins growing everywhere in the fields, so fresh and dewy in the morning, broad leaves glittering with countless diamonds,
Milky blossom of the wild carrot, delicate pat of snowflakes crowning its tall and slender stem, gracefully oscillating in the breeze,
The milk-weed with its delicate red fringe, and profuse clusters of a feathery blossom waving in the wind on taper
The commonest weeds by the road—every leaf a miracle.

I demand the spiritual corresponding,
Demand the blades to rise of words, acts, beings,
Those of the open atmosphere, coarse, sunlit, fresh, nutritious,
Those of earth-born passion, simple, never constrain’d, never obedient,
Those with a never-quell’d audacity.

NEXT: Creatures of the Earth