W Walt Whitman

Come Up from the Fields Father by Walt Whitman

‘Come Up from the Fields Father’ by Walt Whitman is a moving war-time poem. Through its lines, the poet addresses the effect of a son’s death on his family. 

Come Up from the Fields Father by Walt Whitman Visual Representation

The poem is a wonderful example of Whitman’s narrative skill with writing verse. The lines tell a clear story but one that is elevated by his use of natural imagery. Juxtaposition is an important device in the lines of ‘Come Up from the Fields Father.’ The changing and shifting tone is also a quite important element. 

Come Up from the Fields Father
Walt Whitman

Come up from the fields father, here’s a letter from our Pete,
And come to the front door mother, here’s a letter from thy dear son.

Lo, ’tis autumn,
Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,
Cool and sweeten Ohio’s villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind,
Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis’d vines,   
(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?
Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?)

Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent after the rain, and with wondrous clouds,   
Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful, and the farm prospers well.

Down in the fields all prospers well,
But now from the fields come father, come at the daughter’s call,
And come to the entry mother, to the front door come right away.

Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling,
She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap.

Open the envelope quickly,   
O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is sign’d,
O a strange hand writes for our dear son, O stricken mother’s soul!
All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only,
Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,
At present low, but will soon be better.

Ah now the single figure to me,
Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all its cities and farms,
Sickly white in the face and dull in the head, very faint,
By the jamb of a door leans.

Grieve not so, dear mother, (the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs,
The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay’d,)
See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.
Alas poor boy, he will never be better, (nor may-be needs to be better, that brave and simple soul,)
While they stand at home at the door he is dead already,
The only son is dead.

But the mother needs to be better,
She with thin form presently drest in black,
By day her meals untouch’d, then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking,
In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing,   
O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw,
To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.
Come Up from the Fields Father by Walt Whitman


Summary

Come Up from the Fields Father’ by Walt Whitman is a straightforward and effective poem. In it, the poet depicts the effect of a son’s death in the war on his family.

In the first lines of this piece, the speaker, the daughter, calls her father in from the fields, telling him that there’s a letter. As they all read the letter, in among their beautiful and prospering farm, they learn that the son, Pete, has been injured in the war and is in the hospital. Despite the fact that the letter says that he’ll be well soon, it’s obvious to the mother that this isn’t the case. It does turn out that the son, at that very moment, died. The mother mourns, and the poem concludes with an allusion to her desire to kill herself. 

Structure and Form 

Come Up from the Fields Father’ by Walt Whitman is a narrative poem that is written in free verse. This means that the stanzas do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They are also of different lengths. For example, stanza one has two lines, stanza two has six lines, and stanza four has four lines. 

Literary Devices

Throughout ‘Come Up from the Fields Father,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line, for example: “All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only” and “To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.” This can be done either through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter
  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “from” and “fields father” in line one and “her hair” in line two of stanza five. 
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder” or “All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only.” 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two 

Come up from the fields father, here’s a letter from our Pete,

And come to the front door mother, here’s a letter from thy dear son.

Lo, ’tis autumn,

Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,

Cool and sweeten Ohio’s villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind,

Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis’d vines,   

(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?

Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?)

In the first two stanzas of this piece, the speaker opens by addressing his words to his father. There’s a letter in the mail from “Pete,” the speaker’s brother and the father’s son. He’s the father’s “dear son,” someone who he cares deeply about. 

Before getting into the details of what’s in the letter, the speaker spends the next stanza describing the atmosphere. They’re in Ohio, and it’s autumn. The trees are colorful, and the apples are ripe in the orchards and the grapes on the trellised vines. There are two questions at the end of this stanza, something that’s not unusual for Whitman. He asks if you can “smell” the grapes or the “buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing.” By going into detail about the environment, the poet is setting up a juxtaposition between the beauty of the season and the news they’re all about the receive from the letter. 

Stanzas Three and Four 

Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent after the rain, and with wondrous clouds,   

Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful, and the farm prospers well.

Down in the fields all prospers well,

But now from the fields come father, come at the daughter’s call,

And come to the entry mother, to the front door come right away.

The next two stanzas are two and four lines long. They all provide more details about the setting. The farm is prospering, and all appears to be calm and beautiful. It’s not the kind of day on which one would expect to receive bad news. The initial speaker, it’s revealed, is a woman. She is Pete’s sister. 

Stanzas Five and Six

Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling,

She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap.

Open the envelope quickly,   

O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is sign’d,

O a strange hand writes for our dear son, O stricken mother’s soul!

All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only,

Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,

At present low, but will soon be better.

The mother’s words are used in the next lines. She’s talking to her husband and telling him that something is wrong. He can hear it in her words and see it in the way she moves without adjusting her cap. 

The sixth stanza contains the bulk of the narrative. The son has signed the letter they’re reading, but he didn’t write it. This is clear proof that something is not right. The content confirms this when the mother reads that her son has been shot in the breast in a skirmish and taken to hospital. But, he’ll soon be better. 

Stanzas Seven and Eight 

Ah now the single figure to me,

Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all its cities and farms,

Sickly white in the face and dull in the head, very faint,

By the jamb of a door leans.

Grieve not so, dear mother, (the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs,

The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay’d,)

See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.

Alas poor boy, he will never be better, (nor may-be needs to be better, that brave and simple soul,)

While they stand at home at the door he is dead already,

The only son is dead.

Everyone is incredibly upset by this news. They express intense concern for Pete, and the sister who started the poem tries to soothe her mother, telling her that the letter said he’d be okay and that they should trust that. But, the grieving mother seems to know the truth in the words. That the injury is far worse than the letter conveyed. The speaker reveals that “The only son is dead” as they stand there in the doorway. 

Stanza Nine 

But the mother needs to be better,

She with thin form presently drest in black,

By day her meals untouch’d, then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking,

In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing,   

O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw,

To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.

The final stanza is something of an epilogue. It addresses what happened after it became clear that the son was dead. His impact has changed the entire family dynamic. The mother dresses in black, doesn’t eat, sleep, or take care of herself. She longs for a way and a time to “withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw.” These dark concluding lines allude to the mother’s desire to kill herself and escape to a place where she can be with her “dear dead son.” The alliteration in these last words ends the poem solidly. But, the poet does not reveal whether or not she makes the choice to end her life. 

FAQs 

Who is the speaker in ‘Come Up from the Fields Father?’ 

The speaker starts off as the daughter. It transitions into a narrator relaying information about the scenes. Then, it is the mother speaking. The daughter gets a few more words, and then the poem ends with the narrator again describing what’s going on. 

What is the tone of ‘Come Up from the Fields Father?’

The tone goes back and forth. At first, it’s quite peaceful. But, as the poem progresses, it becomes grief-stricken and dark. The last two stanzas are a great example of the latter. Whitman skillfully juxtaposes the beautiful natural world with the suffering of the soldier’s family. 

Who wrote the letter in ‘Come Up from the Fields Father?’

It’s likely that the letter was either written by a superior officer, a nurse or doctor at the hospital, or perhaps even a comrade who was in better writing shape than the son was at the time it was penned. He wanted to contact his family and make sure they knew what had happened. 

Why did Whitman write ‘Come Up from the Fields Father?’

Whitman wrote this poem in order to tell a story that likely played itself out similarly throughout the United States during the Civil War. Families lost sons all over the country, and this family represents those many losses. 

What is the message of ‘Come Up from the Fields Father?’

The message is that loss has the capability to overwhelm and change one’s world entirely. Despite the prospering farm and beautiful surroundings, the death of the only son changed the mother’s life irreparably. She is described in the last stanza as contemplating suicide. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘Come Up from the Fields Father’ should also consider reading other Walt Whitman poems. For example: 

  • A Clear Midnight– a simple, yet impactful poem that depicts a speaker’s desire to free his soul from the confines of day to day life. 
  • I Hear America Singing’ – describes America as en-route to progress with all the members of society contributing with a will and selfless zeal.
  • O Me! O Life!’ – the negatives of “life” are discussed in striking juxtaposition to the “good” elements of “life” which are offered afterward for a strong contrast.

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Come Up from the Fields Father by Walt Whitman Visual Representation
About
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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