‘O stricken mothers soul! ‘ a quotation from Walt Whitman’s poem come up from the fields father depicts the shock and devastation many women felt as they heard the news that their loved ones had died in the war. I have chosen to compare this poem with Thomas Hardy’s a wife in London, which is about a wife waiting at home alone for news of her husband. Both these poems deal with the same core issue, war and the devastating effect it can have on not only those on the battlefield but also those far away at home, in these two poems namely the wife and mother of dead soldiers.
Although both of these poems deal with the same issues they have very different backgrounds. Walt Whitman’s poem is set in Ohio, America in the middle of the American civil war, and a fight for the freedom of black slaves. Whereas Thomas Hardy’s poem is set in the dark streets of London during the Boer war, a war which the British started in south Africa to get their hands on the Dutch settlers land which was rich with gold and diamond deposits.
Also Whitman had first hand experience of war hardy had no experience of war whatsoever. Both poets have chosen to convey the same focus point, the forgotten victims of war, the women who were treated as second-class citizens at the time these poems were written. The wife in a wife in London will be left with nothing now that her husband has died all her possessions will go to his family, as women at this time had no standing in society.
And in the poem come up from the fields father Whitman chooses to focus on the mother’s reaction rather than the rest of the family or the father’s whom you would initially expect the poem to be about as it is called ‘ Come up from the fields father’ yet it is the mother who is the more central character. Just like the wife in London Pete’s that is the dead soldier’s family have no real future now that the only son is dead, there is no one to take over the farm or carry on the family name.
The season and the weather are key points in these two poems, Hardy’s poem opens on a dark and dismal autumn night which reflects the wife’s mood, the London fog is enveloping her house, just like her sadness is overcoming her. The word ‘webby’ is also reflective of her situation as she is caught in the web of war. The words ‘tawny vapour’ and ‘waning taper’ lower the mood of the poem. ‘The street light glimmers cold outside’, it is no warmth to her.
In Whitman’s poem he begins with a pleasant upbeat description of the autumn day, at first you could easily think that this was simply a nature poem not a poem about the destruction and devastation war brings with it. It is autumn is both poems, the dying season. It is interesting to note also that the autumn is called the fall in America, both Pete and the husband have fallen in battle. At the beginning of both poems the reader senses an ominous tone to the poems, then the message arrives, this message is central to both poems but neither is from the deceased member of the family.
There is a cruel twist of fate in each poem in ‘ A wife in London’ the wife receives the tragic news her husband has ‘fallen in the far south land’ Hardy uses imagery to maximum effect in this part of the poem, ‘cracks’ is totally suggestive of the riffle shot which killed her husband, her shocked, dazed reaction is very understandable, she is waiting for a personnel letter from her husband but instead receives a telegraphed message informing her that her husband is dead, this message is formal and impersonal, her worst fears are realised.
The poem then moves swiftly onwards to the next day, ‘ the fog hangs thicker this is symbolic of her state of mind, there is so much going through her mind, her head is foggy, she is now even more depressed than the day before. Now Hardy adds a tragically ironic twist to the poem with the arrival of a letter from her dead husband, she sits alone forlornly reading the letter, which he wrote in such high spirits. His hand whom the worm now knows’ Hardy’s reference to her husband being dead is horrific but it is reality, it is meant to shock us. In ‘Come up from the fields father’ events happen in the opposites sequence, they first receive a letter supposedly from their son Pete, but it is not he who has written it, it says he is well, yet he is unable to write his own letter, inside the mother realises that her son is dead, the actual letter, though hopeful does nothing to console her.
The rest of the family try to comfort her saying “grieve not so dear mother”, “the letter says Pete will soon be better”. However it is the mothers worst fears which are realised, the only son is dead and unlike Hardy Whitman focus’s on the mothers reaction, the reader realises the family have not only lost a son or brother they have also lost a wife or mother, for all she wishes to do is die to be with her ‘dear dead son’ this alliteration at the end of the poem adds a soft tone to the final line.
These poets convey the characters of their poems in very different lights, in Hardy’s poem the wife is not given a name this make her a universal wife, she is ominous and this adds to her loneliness. However Whitman does give the dead soldier, Pete a name this makes the poem more personal even though both poems are imaginary situations, Whitman’s poem is more like a story which actually happened, in real life.
In hardy’s poem ‘ A wife in London’ the words used to describe the world around her are mirrored in her situation and state of mind, the London fog envelopes her house, she does not know it but the tragic news is coming closer, the fog is moving in on her like a web to capture her. ‘Flashed news’, very quick just like the flash of a gun, she has a lot to take in; it is like she has been shot her self, her life as she knows it is over. ‘The fog hangs thicker’, through the imagery of the fog Hardy coveys her deepening depression.
However Whitman’s poem is more implicit, you need to read the poem twice to understand the meaning in the first four stanzas. In the first stanza both parents are called with a sense of urgency as a letter has arrived from their son, this urgency could easily be confused as excitement at first glance, for the next three stanzas Whitman presents the reader, with hopeful, pleasant images which are in stark contrast to the news which the letter contains, this upbeat scene lulls the reader into a false sense of security, before the horrific scene unfolds when the letter is read.
The reader then realises that autumn is the dying season, when all on the farm is cut down for winter and dies just like Pete cut down in his prime. The poem ‘A wife in London’ is short and to the point, it is impersonal and formal, just like the message in which this London wife reads the devastating news about her husband.
Likewise ‘Come up from the fields father’s length and tone is reflected in the type of message they receive telling them their son or brother is dead, it is long, and personnel, Whitman also dwells on the mothers grief for longer whereas in Hardy’s short poem he does not linger on the wife’s grief. In conclusion I personally prefer Walt Whitman’s ‘A wife in London’ because I feel ‘come up from the fields father is too cryptic. Hardy’s poem is short and to the point. Although it does have a more tragic twist of fate, this only adds to the sympathy the reader feels for the London wife.