Study Guide

Grass Warfare

By Carl Sandburg

Warfare

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. (1-6)

The poem begins when the grass commands soldiers to hurry up and do their jobs—to pile high and then bury dead bodies, so that the grass can get to work and cover them. The grass mentions battles from a number of different wars all over the world, and has the same reaction to each. It just wants to get to work, to begin its job of erasing the signs of the past. To be quite frank, this grass is insensitive. It has no feelings. It doesn't mourn the dead. It is 100% all about growing.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                   What place is this?
                                   Where are we now? (7-9)

In these lines, we see that the grass has been successful. Train passengers can't even distinguish battlefields from the rest of the landscape. Congrats, grass, you did it. You erased all signs of the traumatic past.

                       I am the grass.
                       Let me work. (10-11)

The poem ends on this super somber note. It intones "let me work." And by the end of the poem, we understand the nature of this work. The grass's work hides the truth about the ravages of war. We can't help but feel at least a bit anti-grass at the end of the poem. And we definitely are feeling anti-war, too. How about you?

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