Walt Whitman: Poems

Drum Taps: A Letter From Camp


"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


Where apples ripe in the orchards hang, and grapes on the trellised 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 white hair, nor adjust her cap.


Open the envelope quickly;

O this is not our son's writing, yet his name is signed;

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


Sentences broken--"_gun-shot 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


The little sisters huddle around, speechless and dismayed;

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


Alas! poor boy, he will never be better, (nor maybe 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 dressed in black;

By day her meals untouched--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!