Thursday, July 15, 2010

no less than the journeywork of the stars - Whitman on how to weed

Anyone who visits me via an RSS reader should hop over for a minute to see the redesigned weeding site.  Worth it, I swears.

For advice on weeding, I turned to the greatest literary lawncare manual, Leaves of Grass, the root of America’s desire for the perfect lawn.  Just the first, 1855 edition, since I am only an Amateur Weeder.

And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the wormfence, and heaped stones, and elder and mullen and pokeweed.

For a classic of this stature, the guidelines for weeding are surprisingly vague.  It becomes clear that Whitman’s ideal lawn is somewhat different from modern standards.

I swear I see now that everything has an eternal soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground . . . the weeds of the sea have . . . . the animals.

An ambiguity – how about the weeds of the land, which are the ones I’m harrowing?  The irony, however weak, is that I hardly care about the lawn, and positively like weeds.  I’m simply trying to bash a neglected lawn into some form meeting the community standard, which, fortunately, is not too high.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morningglories, and white and red clover,…
And the appletrees covered with blossoms, and the fruit afterward . . . and woodberries . . and the commonest weeds by the road;

What is more beautiful, I ask you, than a field of dandelions, in bloom or seed?  I love dandelions.  Yet, rip rip rip, there they go.  The pleasant, cabbagey broadleaf plantain is my great enemy, now.  I’m not sure why.  What a handsome plant.  What noble antennae.

I am fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to have no Scottish thistle to worry about, another beautiful and destructive beast.  Anecdotal Evidence, gathering flowers rather than weeding, looks at Hugh MacDiarmid’s “A Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle” (1926):

How can I graipple wi the thistle syne,
Be intricate as it and up to aa it moves?
Aa airts its sheenan points are loupon yont me,
Quhile still the firmament it proves.

Just what I have been asking.  How can I grapple with the broadleaf plantain, intricate as it is?

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’ouvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,

And the Whitmanian stanza never seems to end, but finally does, with a girl “boiling her iron tea-kettle and baking shortcake.”  Which reminds me, I have to take my pie over to the town pie-judging contest, and I’m not even kidding about that.  A buttermilk chess pie.  Meine Frau made a peach-blueberry pie.

Please see the comments at Anecdotal Evidence, in which the spooky Ghost of Elberry invokes the greatest thistle in literature, to which I will return, sort of, tomorrow.


  1. interesting new design and blog name-if you can please check out by newly done header picture

  2. I know you do not have proper upbringing in the sanctity of the perfect lawn (evidence being our present lawn of mixed buffalo grass, wildflowers of various types, and a few grasses which are attempts by the prairie to retake this area) but hang in there. And please don't become a lawn fanatic.

  3. You've made my day; what a lovely lawn care manual indeed. I'm sorry to hear you're under your neighbours' watchful eye re: your lawn. Our lawn is made up of mostly moss, daisies, dandelions, various leafy greens and a few greatly outnumbered blades of grass... just the way I like it. No thistles though!

  4. have fun pulling those dandelions. We had quite a few too...until I RIPPED THEM out and killed them. So satisfying.

  5. I have happily been following Whitman's lawn care manual for years which probably annoys my nextdoor neighbor immensely. I too love dandelions and I let them grow freely in the lawn. I do happily pull out the plantain from the flowerbeds though because if it gets big it crowds out the flowers and is hard to get out.

  6. I like weeds too - especially Johnny Jump-ups and dandelions! Yellow and blue together all over a lawn looks like heaven to me.

    As for weedy books...I am being rather more ruthless with my own weeds in that department. I'm currently getting rid of all my school novels displaying my harried hand-written notes inside.

  7. I predict that the battle with the weeds will have ended by Monday, and will never be mentioned here again. The lawn is basically fine. A dandelion or plantain here or there won't hurt anyone too much. I could use more moss.

    mel - the new header is excellent. I particular like, for some reason, the oddly thin Bolaño perched over the oddly thinnner Stevenson.

  8. >For advice on weeding, I turned to the greatest literary lawncare manual, Leaves of Grass, the root of America’s desire for the perfect lawn.

    I like that notion!

    My own garden is in a sad state, and the weeds are threatening to outstrip the peppers. I rather like weeding, but I haven't been up to the garden other than to pick peas and onions and zucchini.

    I like how dandelions like when they're young and innocent, but they insist on taking over and chocking everyone else out.

  9. Those poor dandelions. It's the long term, isn't it? We have to sacrifice them to the Spirit of the Lawn of the Future.

  10. Plantains are medicinal, by the way, and could prove to be very useful.

  11. OK, I'll keep some plantains around in case an herbalist stops by.