Grass Will Grow

Jonathan Kariara

‘Grass will grow’ by Jonathan Kariara is a beautiful poem addressed to God and concerned with loss and a speaker’s reaction to it.

Jonathan Kariara

Nationality: Kenyan

Jonathan Kariara was an influential Kenyan poet, editor, and mentor in African literature.

He was a pivotal figure in Kenya's literary renaissance.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Life is filled with suffering and loss, but there is an inherent capacity for renewal.

Themes: Death, Nature, Religion

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Confidence, Faith, Sadness

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

'Grass Will Grow' by Jonathan Kariara is a deeply moving and thought-provoking poem that explores the human condition through themes of loss, resilience, and fear.

This is a unique poem that contends with some truly emotional subject matter within three fairly short stanzas. Focusing on the loss of a child in the first stanza, the loss of a home in the second, and the speaker’s fear of madness in the third, the poem touches on some of the most feared events in life. 


‘Grass Will Grow’ by Jonathan Kariara is a poignant poem that addresses themes of loss, grief, resilience, and fear of madness.

The poem begins with the speaker pleading with the Lord for strength should their child pass away. They ask for the physical ability to dig the grave and request rain, for “grass will grow.” 

In the second stanza, the imagery of a burnt house represents another form of loss. Again, the speaker asks for rain to cleanse the destruction, and then in the final stanza, the speaker begs the Lord not to send madness, as it is a pain they cannot bear. 

The terrifying imagery of “moon hard madness” and the “yolk of the moon” breaking on them illustrates a fear of an uncontrollable.

Structure and Form 

‘Grass Will Grow’ by Jonathan Kariara is a three-stanza poem. It uses two quintains and a final ten-line stanza. The poet does not use a specific rhyme scheme, but it does include repetition. For example, “For grass will grow” is used as a refrain and is seen at the end of stanzas one and two. 

Literary Devices

In this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include: 

  • Anaphora: occurs when the poet uses the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “If” starts the first line of stanza one and stanza two. 
  • Enjambment: This can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of stanza one. 
  • Consonance: This can be seen when the poet uses the same consonant sound in multiple words. For example, the “l” sound in “little” and “will” in stanza one. 

Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One

If you should take my child Lord
Give my hands strength to dig his grave
cover him with earth
Lord send a little rain
For grass will grow

The first stanza of the poem is a quintain (as is the second). The first stanza speaks to the Christian God, referring to him as “Lord.” The speaker addresses the Lord directly, acknowledging a higher power’s control over life and death. This appeal also shows the speaker’s faith and belief in seeking divine assistance.

The act of digging the child’s grave with one’s hands symbolizes a deeply personal and painful process of grieving. The physical labor is not only an act of farewell but also a tangible way of coping with the loss.

The request for rain in this interesting poem is metaphorical. It represents a cleansing force that can wash away pain while also aiding in the process of healing. Rain nurtures life and helps things grow, so it also symbolizes hope and renewal.

Stanza Two 

If my house should burn down
For grass will grow

In the second stanza, the speaker asks the “Lord” for rain once again, but this time in reference to their burning house. They acknowledge that their house might burn down, and if it does, they hope the Lord will send rain. 

The burning house represents a different kind of loss than the death of a child, but it is still profound. It can be seen as the destruction of security, stability, and memories. 

The imagery here not only helps readers visualize the scene but also allows them to feel the discomfort and pain of the situation. The physical sensations also mirror the emotional pain of loss.

The phrase “For grass will grow” is repeated in the first stanza. In the context of a burnt house, it emphasizes the idea of regrowth and recovery, not only in nature but within the human spirit. 

Stanza Three 

But Lord do not send me
The yolk of the moon on me.

The third stanza is the longest of the poem, breaking the quintain form and stretching to ten lines. While the speaker is very accepting of what the Lord is going to send them, they ask that the Lord does not “send… / Madness.”  

Unlike the other forms of loss depicted in the poem, madness is portrayed as something entirely unbearable, an affliction more terrifying than physical loss or grief.

The speaker seems to prefer tangible, physical suffering over mental anguish. They ask for tears and even express a willingness to endure “hordes of horses, / Galloping, / Crushing.”

The final line is quite beautiful and asks that the Lord does not “break / The yolk of the moon on me.” This adds a mystical and mysterious quality to the concept of insanity. 

The moon has often been associated with madness in literature and myth. Here, it represents something unreachable, overwhelming, and inescapable.


What is the tone of ‘Grass Will Grow?’ 

The tone of the poem is a mix of desperation, pleading, and acceptance. The speaker’s appeals to the Lord reveal a deep vulnerability and a desire for strength in the face of adversity.

What is the purpose of ‘Grass Will Grow?’

The purpose of the poem appears to be an exploration of human resilience and faith in times of profound loss and suffering. It may also serve as a contemplation of what a person can endure.

What is the main theme of ‘Grass Will Grow?’

The main theme of the poem is the human capacity for endurance and renewal in the face of loss whether it is the death of a child, the destruction of a home, or the fear of madness.

What is the mood of ‘Grass Will Grow?

The mood of the poem is somber and reflective, filled with sorrow and fear. It evokes emotions of grief, desperation, and an overwhelming sense of loss.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also read some related poetry. For example: 

Poetry+ Review Corner

Grass Will Grow

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Jonathan Kariara (poems)

Jonathan Kariara

Kariara often explores themes of human suffering, resilience, and cultural identity. In 'Grass Will Grow,' he delves into universal emotions, making the poem accessible to a wide audience. His style often includes the use of simple language to convey profound emotions, which is evident in this piece.
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20th Century

The poem fits within the broader context of 20th-century poetry, which often challenges traditional forms and explores raw, personal emotions. Kariara's use of free verse and direct address to the divine reflects a modernist tendency to question and probe deeper into the human psyche.
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As a Kenyan poet, Kariara may be reflecting on some cultural and personal experiences in his work. Though 'Grass Will Grow' resonates universally, it can also be seen in the context of Kenyan literary tradition and its particular focus on nature, spirituality, and community.
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Death is a central theme, explored in both the loss of a child and the metaphorical death of security with the burning of the house. It's presented not just as an end but as part of a cycle that includes renewal and growth, represented by the grass.
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Nature plays a significant role in this poem, with grass symbolizing hope, renewal, and life's continuation. The elements of rain and earth add to this natural imagery, grounding the poem in the physical world and providing a contrast to the ethereal fear of madness.
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The speaker's direct address to the Lord throughout the poem indicates a religious undertone. The appeal to a higher power for strength, understanding, and mercy imbues the poem with a spiritual dimension, reflecting a belief in divine intervention.
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Despite the pain and suffering expressed, there's an underlying confidence in the natural order and the process of healing. This confidence allows the speaker to endure and to find hope, even in the face of overwhelming loss.
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Faith in the poem is not only a religious concept but also reflects faith in life's capacity for renewal. The speaker's appeals and pleas show a trust in a higher power and a belief that there is a guiding force that can bring solace and healing.
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Sadness pervades the poem, especially in the expressions of loss and grief. The emotional depth and intensity convey a universal experience of human sadness, making the poem resonate with many readers.
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Death of a Loved One

The loss of a child in the poem serves as a poignant symbol of the intense pain that accompanies the death of a loved one. It touches on the very core of human vulnerability, and the depiction of this loss adds emotional weight to the poem.
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The presence of God in the poem is pivotal, as the speaker's direct address provides a spiritual context. God represents a source of strength and a force that can heal, reflecting both religious and universal themes.
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Loss is multifaceted in the poem, encompassing not only death but the loss of security and sanity. These different aspects of loss provide a comprehensive examination of human suffering and resilience.
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Sorrow is expressed through the loss of a child, a home and the fear of losing oneself. This universal emotion is rendered tangible through simple language and relatable experiences.
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Free Verse

The poem's free verse form allows for a fluid and natural expression of emotions. It contributes to the raw and immediate feel of the poem, letting the reader connect directly with the speaker's thoughts and feelings.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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