Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
[This poem is in the public domain.]
(Unsure how I want to format these interpretations. For this one, I decided to chop it up and lead you through my line of thinking. Let me know if you prefer a paragraph.)
WHO is the speaker?
The speaker is Grass. Grass speaks. Grass owns the poem. Grass is in power, with action words/demands.
“Pile” “work” “cover”
Imagine piling and piling. Think of the word choice invoking physics, of “work.” –> mechanical, inhuman imagery
Repetition adds to the mechanical feel. Repetition of “pile” & the phrase “pile them high” –> provides a sort of rhythm, one of chugging along
Starting sentences with conjunction “And” –> I imagine a sort of rolling into each line. And is unstressed, provides a little priming step before launching into the next stressed syllable. Like tapping a gear into motion.
All these references to battles where many died! “cover” denoting overlaying but also connoting burying/forgetting. The only humans in this poem are dead and have no power. They died serving their country or beliefs, only to be covered/forgotten by the grass that routinely covers and covers the piles and piles of bodies. Adds a haunting feeling to this poem.
Does this scare you yet? If I think about it deeply, it gives me chills. This is a world where inhuman grass is in power covering dead bodies mechanically, continuously, in a rhythm.
“What place is this? / Where are we now?” = a series of basic questions, perhaps by the audience or onlookers, and again, repetition
Last stanza is the answer. Is it an adequate answer? No, it’s inadequate. The answer does NOT answer “what place” this is nor “where” we are. The grass, in control into the end of this poem and thereby seemingly infinitely, simply establishes its/his/her authoritative being and commands a command it had uttered earlier – “Let me work.” Again, invoking the mechanical connotation of “work”
Perhaps the relative brevity of the last two sentences adds to the authoritative tone of the grass. Grass closes off the poem standing its ground (#pun) with succinct commands.
What did you think? How did you feel? What techniques did you like?
Interpretation © Kate Eunah Lee, 1/3/18