Skip to main content

Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom

Songs and Poems

This Compost

by Walt Whitman

Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite was once form'd part of a sick person - yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves.
What chemistry!
That the winds are really infectious,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease
Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless succession of diseased corpses,
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

About Poet: Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. He is often called the father of free verse.

Compost Trivia

Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. At the simplest level, the process of composting simply requires making a heap of wetted organic matter known as green waste (leaves, food waste) and waiting for the materials to break down into humus after a period of weeks or months. The composting process turns rotting food waste into rich, productive soil that produces delicious food, a process that Whitman celebrates in this poem.

Discussion and Activities
  1. What is the effect of starting the poem with a command?
  2. Explain the second line. What is your reaction?
  3. Explain how the poet turns a possibly negative image in the second line into a positive image in the next four lines.
  4. What is the author's attitude toward compost?
  5. Discuss the imagery in the line that begins "The resurrection of wheat..."
  6. How does compost make everything "clean forever and forever."
  7. Make a list with two columns, one labeled positive and one labeled negative. List the images from the poem in the appropriate columns.
  8. Why would the calm and patient earth be terrifying?

axis: a straight line about which a body or a geometric figure rotates or may be supposed to rotate

corruption: physical decay or rotting

distil: to purify by a process of heating a liquid or solid until it sends off a vapor and then cooling the vapor until it becomes liquid

humus: a brown or black product of partial decay of plant or animal matter that forms the organic portion of soil

infectious: capable of being easily spread

infused: steeped without boiling (as tea)

fetor: a strong, foul smell

mite: any of various invertebrates that are tiny arachnids closely related to the ticks, that often live on plants, animals, and stored foods, and that include important carriers of disease

mould: mold; light rich crumbly earth that contains decaying matter (as leaves)

organic: of, relating to, or obtained from living things

resurrection: rising again to life

succession: a repeated following of one person or thing after another

visage: the outward appearance of a person, animal, or thing