Eugene Field: The Poet of Childhood

Remember this delightful children’s poem?

I loved reading it when I was a kid. Then I kinda forgot about it until I heard Garrison Keillor mention the author’s birthday in a recent Writers Almanac podcast.

The actual title is “The Duel.” To take a nostalgic trip to your childhood–or to read the poem for the first time–click on the cover image.

The poet, Eugene Field, also wrote “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” another popular poem. This one was originally titled “Dutch Lullaby” and was published in March 1889.

Field was born in St. Louis on September 2, 1850 but spent most of his childhood in Massachusetts after the death of his mother.

He didn’t have a stellar college career, probably because playing pranks was a lot more fun than studying. He started out at Williams College (Massachusetts) but also attended Knox College in Illinois and the University of Missouri in Columbia.

These weren’t simple pranks either. Field actually painted the president’s house the school colors and raided the guy’s wine cellar.

Eventually he settled in St. Joseph, Missouri, married, and had a family. He worked first as a journalist for the St. Joseph Gazette and later as a popular columnist for the Chicago Tribune. In between, he wrote for newspapers in St. Louis and Denver.

When he was only 45 years old, Field died of a heart attack in Chicago. His burial place is the Church of the Holy Comforter, Kenilworth, Illinois.

Thanks to his talent for humorous poems and stories, this “poet of childhood” is remembered throughout the Midwest. For example, his boyhood home in St. Louis is now open to the public as the Field House Museum (formerly the Eugene Field House and St. Louis Toy Museum. He also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Several elementary schools have been named for him–and not just in the Midwestern states. The list is long, but includes schools in New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, California, and South Dakota.

Another historical note: Field’s father was Roswell Martin Field who represented Dred Scott in the landmark Dred Scott v. Landsford case.

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