Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Come Up from the Fields Father" (1865)
Author:
Lulloff, William G.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The poem "Come Up from the Fields Father" was first published in Whitman's Drum-Taps (1865). Subsequently, the poem was included unchanged, except for minor variations in punctuation, as a part of the "Drum-Taps" cluster in all future editions of Leaves of Grass.

The poem, a narrative, realistically relates the reaction of a mother and her family as they learn of the death of their son and brother in battle. This poem contains no mention of patriotic duty, no mention of heroism, and no mention of loyalty to a cause. As biographer Gay Wilson Allen points out, war had become an "observed reality" to Whitman. As he visited the hospitals and had seen the results of war, death no longer was "theoretical or mythical" (Allen 339).

This poem focuses on the mother's feelings as she learns of her son's death. Her overt expression of grief seems honest and heartfelt. Perhaps Whitman is recalling his mother's reaction when she learned of her son George's wounding near Fredericksburg. Allen reports that "Mother Whitman was almost frantic" (281). Perhaps Whitman is recalling the many letters he wrote home from the hospitals for wounded soldiers. He has envisioned what receiving his letters must have been like for families of the hospitalized soldiers.

In a sharp contrast with the war, the opening lines of the poem depict nature's harvest on an Ohio farm: "apples ripe in orchards hang," while ripe grapes adorn the trellis. In this tranquil, pastoral scene, the "farm prospers well." The war, however, goes on, and the message about Pete, the grief-stricken mother's only son, causes the omniscient narrator to conclude in the final stanza that she wishes that she might follow, seek, and "be with her dear dead son."

This poem is a favorite of editors and is often anthologized. It seems to validate the theory of a supernatural maternal tie to a child. The mother knows the son is dead, although the letter says he is wounded and will be better. She knows in her heart that "he is dead already." The last stanza relates the mother's anguish over the following days. The son will "never be better," but the mother "needs to be better."

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Miller, James E., Jr. A Critical Guide to "Leaves of Grass." Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.

____. Walt Whitman. New York: Twayne, 1962.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Ed. Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett. Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 1973.

____. Walt Whitman's "Drum-Taps" (1865) and "Sequel to Drum-Taps" (1865–6): A Facsimile Reproduction. Ed. F. DeWolfe Miller. Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1959.


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