THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many
years, or
stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal,
cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him;
Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the

And the apple-trees cover’d with blossoms, and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries,
commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the out-house of the tavern, whence he had
And the school-mistress that pass’d on her way to the school,
And the friendly boys that pass’d—and the quarrelsome boys,
And the tidy and fresh-cheek’d girls—and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country, wherever he went.

His own parents,
He that had father’d him, and she that had conceiv’d him in her womb, and
They gave this child more of themselves than that;
They gave him afterward every day—they became part of him.

The mother at home, quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table;
The mother with mild words—clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor falling off her
clothes as she walks by;
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger’d, unjust;
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture—the yearning and swelling
Affection that will not be gainsay’d—the sense of what is real—the thought
all, it should prove unreal,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time—the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets—if they are not flashes and specks, what
The streets themselves, and the façades of houses, and goods in the windows,
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank’d wharves—the huge crossing at the ferries,
The village on the highland, seen from afar at sunset—the river between,
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown, three

The schooner near by, sleepily dropping down the tide—the little boat
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint, away solitary by
spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud;
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will
always go
every day.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Walt Whitman's poem There was a Child went Forth.


  1. Alison Ewing says:

    My mother passed away at 92 years recently. She had told me that this poem is very important and everyone should read it. I think it is about how everything we expose our children to influences who they are and who they become. I had lost track of the poem and am grateful to find it on this site!

  2. ASHRAFUDDIN says:

    Whitman has solid and realistic approach on various issues of life.His poetry portrays it very clearly. I like and appriciate

  3. maysa.B says:

    i am studying English . In this course i study American literature , and i found this poem very difficult and after i read cate comment i anderstand it ,but i don’t anderstand your comment about ”mother” if you read my comment, i want your answer on my E-MAIL

  4. Bridget says:

    didn’t like it. i don’t get most of it, but “cates” ideas really helped!

  5. Kymberlie says:

    This poem is deep!!

  6. leonardo says:

    I first read this poem in my literature and culcure was difficult for me to understand it。the most puzzling part is the last few lines。

  7. Jason says:

    When I read this poem the first thing that I thought was about scuicide!

  8. Cate says:

    I like how as the child gets older, the lines of the poem get longer. Written in free-verse, there is an overlapping progression seen throughout the poem: the child first notices objects, then nature, then animals, then people, then machines. The progression can also be seen in the specific things the child notices: at first, he or she notices “early” lilacs, third-month lambs, calves…all things representing new life. The child begins to understand that many different things can have the same color, such as the red and white morning-glories and the clover.
    Then the child branches out to the barnyard and sees “feild-sprouts of the Fourth- and Fifth-month” and apples trees with flowers and then “the fruit afterward,” symbolizing the growing maturity of the child. He or she is beginning to differentiate people by their age, gender, and race, and behavior, as seen by the descriptions of many different kinds of people. Another interesting point: the child realizes that not everything he sees is good, such as the drunkard and the weeds.
    The poem then moves to the parents and shows that along with giving the child physical life, the mother and father also gave their child more of themselves than that: it talks about the “wholesome,” gentle mother before talking about the “mean, anger’d, unjust” father. However, these words are not mean to be as harsh as they seem. Fathers (as well as mothers) seem “mean” to their children when they make rules and set limits, “anger’d” when their child disobeys those limits, and “unjust” when they punish their child for their disobedience. All of the child’s family experiences stay with him during his life, and at home he can always find “affection that is not gainsay’d.”
    As the child gets older, he begins to think about the things he views – “the doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time” – and wonders if things happen by random chance or if there is a purpose to his everyday life.
    The rest of the poem uses very descriptive language. It first talks about a journey on a ferry that in today’s world can be compared to a child going off to college. Although it makes one nervous, there is still a safe destination in sight: “the village in the highland.” Also, a ferry is a large, slow-moving boat, and much less frightening than a tiny schooner being hurried and slapped by “tumbling waves.” The voyage on the schooner can be compared to the rest of the child’s life: unsure and dangerous, but most likely worth the trip. The image of the horizon suggests an unknown, an area still to be discovered, adventures that have yet to take place, etc.

    “The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in…these became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.”
    Each one of our experiences has an effect on us, whether temporary or permanent, that shapes the rest of our lives.

    I am not exactly sure that any of my analysis is correct; I am only writing down the ideas that came to my mind when I read the poem. Everyone is different and no two people will ever read the same poem the exact same way. Walt Whitman is the man; everytime I read this poem I see something new. Enjoy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Walt Whitman better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.