by Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)
Translation © by Walter A. Aue

A child said, What is the grass?...
Language: English 
Available translation(s): GER
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? .... I do not know 
what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly [dropped]1,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced 
babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mother's laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

V. Fine sets stanzas 1-3

About the headline (FAQ)

View original text (without footnotes)
1 Fine: "dropt"


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive):

Settings in other languages, adaptations, or excerpts:

  • Also set in German (Deutsch), a translation by Hans Reisiger (1884 - 1968) , first published 1922 [an adaptation] ; composed by Franz Schreker.

Other available translations, adaptations or excerpts, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • GER German (Deutsch) [singable] (Walter A. Aue) , copyright © 2010, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Researcher for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator]

This text was added to the website: 2007-11-26
Line count: 40
Word count: 382

Ein Kind sagte, Was ist das Gras?
Language: German (Deutsch)  after the English 
Ein Kind sagte, Was ist das Gras?

Ein Kind sagte, Was ist das Gras?, und bringt es mir, Hände und Hände voll.
Was kann ich sagen dem Kind? Ich weiß, was es ist, 
  nicht besser als er.

Ich denke, es muß das Banner meiner Gemütsart sein,
  aus hoffnungsvoll grünem Zeuge gewoben.

Oder ich denk, es ist das Tüchlein des Herrn,
Geschenk voll von Duft und ein Mahner, vorsätzlich fallen gelassen,
Mit Monogramm des Besitzers in Ecken, daß wir's mögen bemerken
  und sagen, Wessen?

Oder ich denk, das Gras ist selber ein Kind, das erschaffene Baby der Flora.

Oder ich denk, es ist eine immergleiche Geheimschrift;
Und bedeutet: Sprießend genauso in breiten Zonen wie engen Zonen,
Wachsend genauso bei Schwarzen wie bei den Weißen...

About the headline (FAQ)


  • Singable translation from English to German (Deutsch) copyright © 2010 by Walter A. Aue, (re)printed on this website with kind permission. To reprint and distribute this author's work for concert programs, CD booklets, etc., you must ask the copyright-holder(s) directly for permission. If you receive no response, you must consider it a refusal.

    Walter A. Aue.  Contact: waue (AT) dal (DOT) ca

    If you wish to commission a new translation, please contact:

Based on:


This text was added to the website: 2010-03-26
Line count: 14
Word count: 123