Sandburg: Leaves of Grass

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Many a times one has heard the phrase “history will repeat itself”. However, it is rarely fully understood. No matter how many times one hears the numbers, facts, statistics of war, humanity fails to end the cycle. In the poem, “Grass” by Carl Sandburg, Sandburg utilizes repetition and a powerful theme to pose an especially striking stance on war.

Consider first the repetition of the words “pile” and “shovel” and the way in which they are repeated. Normally, especially in a short poem like this one, one would want to avoid repetition in order to ensure that the poem stays interesting. Sandburg chooses to depart from that rule of thumb. “Pile” and “Shovel” occur in lines 1 and 2 respectively, so when they recur later they are already familiar. The repetition of “pile” at Lines 4 and 5 is within the same phrase so that surrounding words are identical and the word occurs visually in exactly the same place in each line. In doing so, Sandburg conveys a sense of the magnitude of death in war – not only in terms of the numbers who died in each war, but also how war reoccurs time and again. Additionally, “pile” stands out more prominently than “shovel”. So even though we know that the cycle of piling and shoveling is going to go on, the piles seem to build up faster than humanity can shovel. The repetition has an additional effect: Sandburg has written in free verse with no rhyme scheme. And yet, just looking at the poem on the page, one can visualize that there is some of frame which keeps it all together. The frame is that of repeated pile/shovel phrases and placement in each line.

Moreover, Sandburg’s theme is that grass is ultimately more powerful than battles and it is revealed in a rather astonishing way. When one initially glances at the poem, they are led to believe that they will simply be reading a poem about, as the title indicates, Grass. front the reader thinks they are about to settle in to a poem about Grass (which they are) only to encounter the...
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