‘I Will Go With My Father a-Ploughing’ by Joseph Campbell is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of eight lines, or octaves. Each of these octaves follows a consistent rhyming pattern. There are differences between the lines, but the meter and word choice help create a uniformity that brings significant cohesion to the poem.
The stanzas generally follow the pattern of abcbdefe. The second and fourth lines rhyme, and the sixth and eighth lines rhyme; this stands true throughout each strophe. Additionally, the poet has chosen to follow a wording pattern that will become clear in the second stanza. He repeats similar phrases three times, and even ends the second line and fourth line of each stanza with the same words.
Explore I Will Go With My Father a-Ploughing
The poem begins with the speaker traveling with his father to “plough” the lands “by the sea.” It is there that he sees three different types of birds and hears his father singing the appropriate song for this time of year, the “Plough-Song.”
The poet continues this pattern throughout the rest of the poem, having his speaker describe in turn the time for sowing and for reaping. In each stanza, the poet repeats the same pattern of lines to show the repetition of the year, as well as the constant changes that come over the land.
Analysis of I Will Go With My Father a-Ploughing
I will go with my Father a-ploughing
To the Green Field by the sea,
And the rooks and corbies and seagulls
Will come flocking after me.
I will sing to the patient horses
With the lark in the shine of the air,
And my Father will sing the Plough-Song
That blesses the cleaving share.
The poet begins this piece by having his speaker start with a time that will be repeated, with variations, at the beginning of each stanza. This line acts as a refrain, and keeps the reader in line with the poet’s purpose for telling this story. The speaker is remembering the days in which he traveled with his father to the places he was needed. The stanzas take the reader through the months of the year. In the first, the father and son are “ploughing” a field.
The son/speaker of the poem begins by describing how he will do what is needed. He will go with his father to plough the land by “the Green Field.” The area in which they are living is given no more than these simple descriptions. It takes on a magical quality, as if it has truly been pulled from a story or song.
While the son is helping his father, he will see a number of different birds that inhabit the area. The birds will come and “flock” after him. He will wander the landscape and “sing to the…horses” who are helping with the ploughing. They are patient, and have no reason to rush through the day.
The narrator adds to the scene by saying that his father will sing the “Plough-Song,” and the “lark” will be seen flying in the air. All of these sights and sounds represent a specific time of year to the speaker, as well as a specific way of living. This is how he grew up and how he remembers these days.
I will go with my Father a-sowing
To the Red Field by the sea,
And the merls and robins and thrushes
Will come flocking after me.
I will sing to the striding sowers
With the finch on the flowering sloe,
And my Father will sing the Seed-Song
That only the wise men know.
The second stanza of ‘I Will Go With My Father a-Ploughing’ mimics the first in that the speaker is remembering the times in which he and his father were “sowing” the land they had previously plowed. They are planting this year’s crops in what is now the “Red Field by the sea.” Due to their previous actions, the land has changed, just as the months have. At this point, three different birds come to the son and “flock…after [him].” He is followed by these new companions and now he takes on some of the singing. He will serenade the other “striding sowers” of the land and his father will sing “the Seed-Song.”
All of these actions are suited for, and connected to, a certain time of year. The speaker’s memories of his life are combined into these three distinct categories, the last of which comes in the final stanza.
I will go with my Father a-reaping
To the Brown Field by the sea,
And the geese and pigeons and sparrows
Will come flocking after me.
I will sing to the weary reapers
With the wren in the heat of the sun,
And my Father will sing the Scythe-Song
That joys for the harvest done.
In the last stanza, it is time for the son to accompany his father to “reap” the land they have previously “ploughed” and “seeded.” They will gather the crops they’ve grown in the “Brown Field by the sea.” Time continues to progress, and their actions have changed the image of the landscape further.
Once more the poet follows his pattern, stating that three more birds, this time “geese and pigeons and sparrows,” will follow after his speaker. The speaker will continue his singing, this time to the “weary reapers” who are tasked with the retrieval of the crops.
The poem concludes with the father singing the “Scythe-Song,” a reference to the curved blade used to cut down crops. The poet is hoping to emphasize the importance of different times of the year, as well as their similarities, in this dream-like narrative.
About Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell, who wrote under his Gaelic name, Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in July of 1879 into a working-class family. Campbell went to college in Belfast and eventually went on to teach English. His interests took him south to Dublin where he furthered his writing career. He worked writing poetry, plays, and songs. One particularly noteworthy play, The Little Cowherd of Slainge, was performed in 1905.
Campbell moved to London in 1906 and was quite active in the Irish literary scene. He taught for a time before returning to Dublin where he served as an intelligence officer during the Easter Rising. The fallout from his participation in the Irish Civil War forced him to emigrate to the United States where he lectured at Fordham University in New York.
He was able to move home in 1939 and lived the rest of his life in County Wicklow. Many of Campbell’s poems have fallen out of popular knowledge but his contribution to Irish literature is significant. One of his most well-known pieces, My Lagan Love, has been performed and recorded by many artists. Campbell died in June of 1944.