Our Common Home: Select Poems

The following poems will be read aloud by distinguished poets, along with other pieces and performances, tomorrow evening at Our Common Home, a celebration of Pope Francis' call to action on climate change.

Leaves of Grass

by Walt Whitman

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

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
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.


My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck, on my distant and
   day-long ramble;
They rise together, they slowly circle around.
...I believe in those wing’d purposes,
And acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within me,
And consider green and violet, and the tufted crown, intentional;
And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something
And the mocking bird in the swamp never studied the gamut, yet
   trills pretty well to me;
And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.


The wild gander leads his flock through the cool night,
Ya-honk! He says, and sounds it down to me like an invitation;
The pert may suppose it meaningless, but I listen closer,
I find its purpose and place up there toward the November sky.

The sharp-hoof’d moose of the north, the cat on the house-sill, the
   chickadee, the prairie-dog,
The litter of the grunting sow as they tug at her teats,
The brood of the turkey-hen, and she with her half-spread wings;
I see in them and myself the same old law. 

The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections.
They scorn the best I can do to relate them.


These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not
   original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine, they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle, and the untying of the riddle they are
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is, and the water is,
This is the common air that bathes the globe.

Binsey Poplars

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
   Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
   All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
                Not spared, not one
                That dandled a sandalled
          Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

     O if we but knew what we do
           When we delve or hew —
        Hack and rack the growing green!
             Since country is so tender
        To touch, her being só slender,
        That, like this sleek and seeing ball
        But a prick will make no eye at all,
        Where we, even where we mean
                   To mend her we end her,
               When we hew or delve:
     After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
      Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
         Strokes of havoc unselve
             The sweet especial scene,
         Rural scene, a rural scene,
         Sweet especial rural scene.

About the authors

Urban Green Council
Dedicated to transforming buildings for a sustainable future.