Weekly Whitman: “Beat! beat! drums!”

Union drummer boy

“Beat! beat! drums!” is another early war poem urging Walt Whitman’s beloved New York City to take up arms. Whitman wrote many of these, and never regretted any of them, even if he later saw war as quite different than the glorious adventure advertised below:






Beat! beat! drums!

Beat! beat! drums! — blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows — through doors — burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet — no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums — so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums! — blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities — over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day — no brokers or speculators — would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums — you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums! — blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley — stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid — mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums — so loud you bugles blow.

This poem is one that lends itself to being read aloud, but the recordings I have included need some explanation. The first one (A) is a sort of visually comic approach to the creation of Whitman mouthing the words himself. I think it looks more like Santa Claus. However, the soundtrack is probably a highly digitalized version of an actual Whitman recording. If you listen & don’t look, this is an amazing experience. The second recording (B) is equally strange. It is a hand-held camera video of a high school student reading “Beat! beat! drums!” in a 2007 spoken word contest. Equally amazing, once you get past the visuals. Pretend they are podcasts.

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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3 Responses to Weekly Whitman: “Beat! beat! drums!”

  1. So now you are going even more multi-media, Meg. Way cool. Thanks for a truly engaging post. I was one of those high school and college kids who competed in Oral Interpretation of Literature (as well as other events) while debating. I always thought Beat, Beat Drums was written to be read aloud. Now I know that for certain.

  2. Troy Harman says:

    Mid-19th century writers often employed personification and anthropomorphism as an expression of underlying anxieties introduced by industrialization. Factories belched, cannons roared, and steam engines whistled.

  3. Katy Berman says:

    Wow, a hawkish poem by Whitman!

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