Study Guide

Grass Stanza 2

By Carl Sandburg

Stanza 2

Lines 4-6

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work. 

  • In this second stanza of the poem, the grass continues in the same vein. This time, though, it's commanding the soldiers to pile the bodies high in other battlefields.
  • So, Sandburg's poem isn't just concerned about the Napoleonic wars of way back in the day. The grass speaks of the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which was the American Civil War battlefield that saw the most casualties in the whole war. 
  • The grass also mentions Ypres and Verdun, the sites of World War I battlefields in Belgium and France, respectively. 
  • Are you starting to feel like there's a lot to take in here? A whole lot of bloody, deadly battles for us to digest? Well, you're right. 
  • The number of battles is starting to feel like a lot because Sandburg is using a type of repetition called anaphora, in which the beginning of lines repeat the same words. In the case of "Grass," we've got anaphora in the lines "And pile them high at Gettysburg" and "And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun."
  • Anaphora is really a form of a list—and there's nothing like a long list to make us feel overburdened with information. 
  • Let's also just pause to note that the grass issues the same commands in this stanza as in the last one—"pile them high," "shovel them under," and "let me work."
  • There's no variation in the grass's response to different battles from different wars. The grass wants to do its job no matter what the war or what the battle. It wants to "cover all" of every war.

Lines 7-9

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                   What place is this?
                                   Where are we now? 

  • There's a definite shift in the poem here. Instead of making demands, the grass imagines the future, after it has done its work.
  • It imagines trains travelling past the now-grass covered battlefields, "two years, ten years" in the future.
  • In the future, the train passengers won't even realize that the battlefields were where they were. The grass imagines the passengers asking the conductor: "What place is this? / Where are we now?" 
  • In the "two years, ten years" after the battles have been fought, the battlefields are unrecognizable. All traces of the war were erased by the grass, which has covered "all."
  • We can't help but wonder about the grass's work. What does it mean that the battlefields are no longer recognizable as such? Is it a good thing that nature has revived the deadly battlefields? Or is it a bad thing that we no longer can see the remains of our bloody history?
  • To answer these questions, let's turn to the final lines of the poem.

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