17 September 2007


Walt Whitman called his life’s work Leaves of Grass.

In his masterwork, Song of Myself, he offers us the following visions of grass:

‘…it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven…’

‘…the handkerchief of the Lord…’

‘…the produced babe of the vegetation…’

‘....a uniform hieroglyphic…’

‘…the beautiful uncut hair of graves…’

In case there is any confusion, he reminds us in the final stanza:

‘I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.’

Sri Chinmoy reveals the following about grass in Humility, from Illumination-Fruits:

‘How can we become humble? If we know the secret of identification, we can become humble. Look at Mother Earth who is protecting us, nourishing us and giving us shelter in every way. How many bad things are being done to Mother Earth! Yet she is all-forgiving. Forgiveness is all-humility. Right in front of us we can see humility in a patch of grass. When we see grass with our human eyes, we feel that it is something unimportant. Anybody can step on it. But when we see it with our inner eye, we feel how great it is. Early in the morning when we see dew on the grass, we say, "How beautiful it is!" And just a few hours later we will be walking on it; yet it never complains or revolts. When we have the inner capacity to appreciate the grass, we say, "How humble and self-giving it is!" When we identify ourselves with grass, we see that it has a very big heart. Consciously or unconsciously, from grass we get a feeling of humility.’

Let us return to Walt now and ponder his Passage to India:

'Swiftly I shrivel at the thought of God,
At Nature and its wonders, Time and Space and Death,
But that I, turning, call to thee, O soul, thou actual Me,
And lo! thou gently masterest the orbs,
Thou matest Time, smilest content at Death,
And fillest, swellest full, the vastnesses of Space.

Greater than stars or suns,
Bounding, O soul, thou journeyest forth;
—What love, than thine and ours could wider amplify?
What aspirations, wishes, outvie thine and ours, O soul?
What dreams of the ideal? what plans of purity, perfection, strength?
What cheerful willingness, for others’ sake, to give up all?
For others’ sake to suffer all?

Reckoning ahead, O soul, when thou, the time achiev’d,
(The seas all cross’d, weather’d the capes, the voyage done,)
Surrounded, copest, frontest God, yieldest, the aim attain’d,
As, fill’d with friendship, love complete, the Elder Brother found,
The Younger melts in fondness in his arms.'

The extravagant but humble Walt Whitman, rich son of nature, drunk with the fertile infinity of the heaven-blessed earth consciousness; ecstatic in his cosmic vision of unity.

I can say for sure this true son of earth has returned to the arms of heaven...wherever our feet may fall.


Sumangali Morhall said...

Deft counterpoint of Walt Whitman and Sri Chinmoy. Thank you, Alf, for the verdant snippets. Very refreshing.


Alf said...


John said...

It is said that "Passage to India" was Whitman's last major work. It seems sad that someone should have a last major work. It's sad to have a last anything.

Although Whitman was for the most part coy about his sources, he did admit to having read the Bhagavad Gita, and was almost certainly an undeclared, ardent but from afar disciple of Emerson, the founding American Transcendentalist, which can more or less be surmised as the first introduction of Vedic thought to America.

The point to this hardly revelatory history lesson? Your combining of Sri Chinmoy, a modern day Indian sage, with the words of an American poet steeped in Indian wisdom, is highly appropriate, and I very much enjoyed reading.

Alf said...

Ta John,

I didn't know that Passage to India was one of Walt's last major works.

I like it.

I also liked your erudite commentary.

John said...

Touché to your erudite postery.