Brian Patten's poem "A Blade of Grass" is deceptively simple: One person asks for a poem; the other person hands the person grass; the first person rejects it. However, as with all poetry, deeper meaning is embedded in these six stanzas. It is important to remember that finding the meaning of a poem is not always clean-cut. Poetry, in its seeming simplicity or ambiguity, is open to various interpretations. Identifying the meaning of a poem does not only mean understanding what the poet meant -- it also means discovering all the different feelings, situations and ideas for which the poem rings true.
What Is a Poem?
Strangely enough, one of the meanings of this poem is deciphering the meaning of poetry. By offering the blade of grass in lieu of a poem, the speaker complicates the notion of what poetry truly is as well as what it strives to be. If in fact a poem is meant to communicate, for example, emotions or aspects of the human condition through imagery, then why can't the blade of grass be a poem? Speaking about this offering from nature, Patten writes: "It is more immediate/Than any image of my making." He is implying here that a poem, in all its crafting and precision, can ultimately encompass what it is trying to express only by gesturing to it. So why can't a real-life image as beautiful as a single frost-coated sprig of grass be considered poetry?
Growing Cynical As We Age
In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's story "The Little Prince," when the child draws a picture of an elephant that has swallowed a boa constrictor, the adults see only a drawing of a hat. This increasing cynicism and absence of uninhibited imagination in adults is also addressed in the poem "A Blade of Grass." Patten writes: "And about how as you grow older/A blade of grass/Becomes more difficult to accept." The recipient of the blade of grass finds it difficult to accept this gift as a poem because of a lack of creative imagination. The adult is sticking to his or her notion of what a poem has to be, and in fact grows "indignant" at the substitution. The poem is implying that this cynicism is a symptom of aging.
It can also be argued that one meaning of the poem is the prevalent sense of dissatisfaction in society. Patten writes: "And so I write you a tragedy about/How a blade of grass/Becomes more and more difficult to offer." According to the poem, offering something as simple as a blade of grass has grown increasingly difficult over time. This may be because of an increasing sense of dissatisfaction in society caused by stress, the rapid pace of life and advances in day-to-day technology. As a result of these conditions and their effect on people's sense of value and priorities, this simple and ubiquitous object "is not good enough" for the recipient.
"Real Art Should Be Hard"
Many of us are familiar with the concept of the "tortured artist"; the man or woman who sacrifices sanity for craft because it is all so impossibly difficult. The recipient in the poem embodies this belief when Patten writes: "You say it is too easy to offer grass./It is absurd." However, ultimately, the poem refutes that image. By offering the blade of grass as poetry, Patten reminds the reader that, at times, art can be simple, easy and quotidian. We are surrounded by beauty and art every day -- sometimes, to celebrate it can be as simple as bending down and plucking a blade of grass.