The poems, “A child said, What is the grass” by Walt Whitman and “We who were Executed” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, magnetically pull together on basis of their inspiring themes and motivating ideals. Both poets share a common purpose, that is, to make their nations aware of the socio-political facts and requirements of the environment in which they write.
The overarching theme of both poems is to seek hope out of hopelessness. In Whitman’s poem, “A child said, What is the grass”, the poet employs the symbol of “grass” inorder to represent growth and multiplicity. This growth further connotes to the growth and expansion of America as a united state. Grass is an inanimate entity as compared to human beings yet, its beauty relates to human stature. According to Whitman, all human beings are flakes of grass, therefore, this metaphor signifies an important feature of his poetry, i.e., tolerance and justice. The grass is a sign of hope and its green color projects the idea of freedom of mind and body which will eventually evolve a sense of democracy. This showcases the fact that the poet had no other theme other than democracy in all its human and universal applications. American democracy in its numerous manifestations through streets and cities must be vitalized by regular contact with nature, because otherwise it will dwindle and pale. This illustrates his Modernist characteristic.
However, it is noteworthy that the poet’s writing expression is meticulously systematic. As we move from one stanza to the other, we witness a remarkable movement in the poem. Initially, the grass seems to be dark but gradually we get an image of “transpire” when in the second stanza he states,
“Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
From offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps”
The stanza is significant as it reiterates the same notion of hope vs. hopelessness. Although the “curling grass” depicts a retarded growth and distorted, directionless new mindsets, yet the sacrifices of ordinary men have endowed them the stature of the nourisher. Thereby, while giving them homage, he jolts his people out of their prejudices and wants them to recognize their own sense of identity and advocates a feeling of respect for others’ values. There are certain democratic ideals in every mind no matter how underprivileged they might be. Hence, homogeneity is required in minds and the nation as a whole.
Faiz’s poem, “We who were Executed”, is essentially a tribute to the silent workers in Partition. The title tells that death of the lover and his beloved has already taken place and at the moment a confession of love is going on. Synonymous to Whitman’s symbol of “grass” is the emblem of the “Beloved” in this poem. For Faiz, this beloved stands for the socialistic, humanistic ideas coupled with the idea of independence and freedom of expression. As his beloved is “crucified”, he presents the symbol of candle which stands for democratic ideals and hope despite utter hopelessness. The touch of beloved’s hand is equated to something that brings light and which would refine our being. We are already living in the “darkest lanes”. At least, the beloved’s touch will enlighten our spirit and mind along with the poet.
In both poems, it is observed that death has been viewed positively as one end indicates the beginning of something new. Similarly, the old generations pave way for the new ones.
Whitman encapsulates the idea of old generation vs. new generation which is analogous to Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s theme. In the last stanza of “We who were Executed”, he talks of the new generation who will follow the ideology of Faiz and his beloved, that is, “the lane of desire” which connotes to democracy at a broader spectrum. The “darkest lane” in which the lover and the beloved were executed will be the path of desire for the upcoming generations. Both these people have shortened the path of suffering for the future generations and can acquire their goal of democracy with lesser pain as it is from their point of death that they will begin. Thereby, hope comes from the followers of their objective as a chain reaction because even if the struggle was incomplete, the later generations will inevitably carry it on. The poet feels happy that he did not compromise on his beloved although he sacrificed his life for it. This places his death on a higher pedestal as it is not an ordinary death. Infact, a new ray of revolution will shine upon them.
In “A child said, What is the grass”, the poet asserts:
“All goes onward and outward…and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
The poet upholds the concept that every life has to be valued and cherished. Each generation carries ideals and will eventually move on. This cyclic pattern gives a positive picture of life as people who have lost their lives for the purposeful cause of nation will be remembered even more when others pursue their course. Death is still the beginning of an uprising.
With little details, both poets allow our thought processes to trigger. Even in despair, clouded perception should be avoided. We observe that romantic streak enlivens realistic images of death and bloodshed. Moreover, another common feature in these poems is darkness. In Faiz’s poem, “dim lanes”, “darkest lanes” and in Whitman’s poem, the “dark” grass signify hope in the sense that the ideals of democracy have not been shaped up properly but with incessant struggle, their goal will have a concrete shape.
Nonetheless, with the pronoun “I”, the issue of identity springs up which is central to the American nation. Whitman praised the individual and he imagined a democratic nation as a unified whole composed of distinctive but equal individuals. In this way, many individuals make up the individual democracy, a single entity composed of various parts. Each entity carries the same weight within a single democracy. In comparison, Faiz is in favour of collective existence. “I” and “you” produce “we” after death, which, like an equation is the solution of separate existence. “We” becomes the entire social class moving towards a particular goal and hence, the element of starkness will eliminate. These concepts of Whitman and Faiz also pertain to the notion of Marxism which will ultimately change the system of the world and bring about a revolution in the nation.
Literature is a craft to reach out to the masses and is influential if caught properly. Walt Whitman and Faiz Ahmad Faiz are endowed with extraordinary prowess to influence their nations with their poetry. They never took art for art’s sake and this is vividly seen through their purposeful work. With all their idiosyncrasies, both poets are very much products of their time and both poems, “A child said, What is the grass” and “We who were Executed” are worth appreciation.