The title of our poem, "Grass," announces the speaker of the poem. Why, hello there, speaker grass.
But wait, you say, grass can't speak. That is ridiculous.
We agree—if, that is, you're talking about real life. In the world of this poem, grass can speak, and it's got a whole lot to say.
We might even say that the grass of "Grass" is personified which means that the poet has given the grass human qualities—ideas, thoughts, a work ethic, a voice. This grass has got something to say, and we're all ears.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
So, now that we've established that the speaker of the poem is the grass, we want to see what the grass has got to say. It begins the poem with a command—"Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo."
What are Austerlitz and Waterloo? Well, they're famous battlefields from the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth-century. Austerlitz, in the present-day Czech Republic, was a big victory for Napoleon and his French army, while Waterloo, in present-day Belgium, was the site of Napoleon's defeat.
Despite these historical references, you don't need to have a degree in European history to understand this poem. What you need to know is that both of these battles were big and bloody; at Waterloo, over 45,000 people were killed.
So, when the grass issues that command (also known as an imperative) to "pile the bodies high," he's talking about a whole lot of bodies—tens of thousands.
And, though it's not 100% clear who the grass is addressing, we're gonna go ahead and suggest that he's talking to the soldiers who have lived through these battles. They're the ones who have to pile the bodies.
Do you notice the grass's straightforward tone? It's very staid, and almost disaffected, emotionless. There's no crying over dead bodies by the grass in… "Grass."
Shovel them under and let me work— I am the grass; I cover all.
The second line of the poem is also a command to the soldiers. After you pile the bodies, the grass says, "shovel them under" (i.e., bury them underground).
Again, the grass seems emotionless. It's not thinking about the lives lost, the loves lost, the battle wounds, or the tragedies of war.
Instead, the grass wants to get to work. It says, "I am the grass; I cover all."
What does the grass mean by this? Well, it wants the soldiers to get those bodies in the ground so that it can grow over them.
It wants to erase the battlefield from the landscape and return to more peaceful times. The grass wants to get growing.
And it says that it will cover "all." That's a pretty big, but also a pretty accurate statement. 200-year-old battlefields like Austerlitz and Waterloo no longer look like the bloody, ravaged, battlefields that they once were.
Before we move on, let's just take note of the poem's form for a sec. Clearly, there's no rhyme scheme or regular meter going on, so it's written in free verse. But that doesn't mean that the poem is all willy-nilly. The lines are fairly short, straightforward, and controlled.
And there's a big indentation that indicates when the grass is making a big pronouncement. It's saying, hey, listen up—"I am the grass; I cover all" and there isn't a darn thing you can do about that. (For more on form and meter, check out… "Form and Meter.")