Essay, Research Paper: Beat Beat Drums


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When a country is at war it is the common people who suffer. In Walt Whitman’s
poem, “Beat! Beat! Drums,” the speaker signifies the sounds of war. The
speaker, listening to the banging of war drums and shrill sounds of bugles,
relates the interruption these war sounds have on the harmony of people’s
lives. Whitman uses the sounds of drums as an audible image to show its effects
on the common people. Whitman uses two types of imagery to express the cold
indirect and direct effects of war. Whitman using the loud banging of drums and
the blows of bugles creates a war atmosphere throughout the whole poem. He
brings in the sounds of war at the beginning and end of every section to ensure
the reader has a feeling that the drums are never ending. For example, Whitman
starts the first section with: “Beat! beat! drums – blow bugles blow”, and
ends the first section with a feeling that the drums are only getting louder:
“So fierce you whirr and pound you drums – so shrill you bugles blow.
Whitman writes of how the war is felt on two different levels: one as a
community, and the other as personal. Using imagery, the sounds travel
“through the windows-through doors-burst like a ruthless force,” as if the
drums and bugles are shattering through the homes of the common people. In the
first section Whitman shows of how the sounds of war effect the personal lives
of the common people. Whitman uses imagery to show how the drums and bugles
interrupt everyday life. This is evident in the lines: “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 with his
bride, Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his
grain,” These four lines expressed by Whitman have an underlying meaning in
each image he presents. Whitman uses the image of a “solemn church” to show
how people must go through each day, with an empty feeling in their souls,
knowing their lives’ are at risk. Using the image of a “school” being
disrupted; Whitman is able to express the idea that during a time of war no
education is able to take place. His underlying meaning, having no education in
a child’s life only leads to an uneducated group of people in the future.
Again Whitman is able to create an image of how war effects peoples’ lives
both directly and indirectly. “Leave not the bridegroom quiet- no happiness
must he have with his bride,” Whitman uses the image of a “bridegroom”
leaving his wife to show how young men during this time are called off to duty
to defend their country or side. The underlying meaning of this is that new
families are unable to be started because of the separation of husbands and
wives. “Nor the peaceful farmer any peace,” Whitman uses the image of a
farmer to express the idea that no food will be grown because of war taking
place. People’s everyday work life is effected by this war only creating
problems for the future. Whitman uses wonderful images to show how the war
affects peoples’ jobs. “No bargainers by day- no brokers or
speculators-would/ they continue?” The speaker expresses how even the rich
persons of the community cannot carry on with their jobs. Whitman’s underlying
meaning is that because of the war an economic depression might happen in the
future. Whitman takes every section and turns them into a part of the war. Each
section is how a war would take over a particular community. In the first
section Whitman talks of all quiet and peaceful places; “church”,
“school”, and “field.” These show how the drums are easy to disrupt
these calming places. Then Whitman finishes the first section as the drums are
getting louder or the war is getting bigger, “So fierce you whirr and pound
your drums- so shrill you bugles blow.” This line states that the speaker can
start to feel the sounds of the drums and not only hear them. The second section
the speaker knows that after a war hit the quiet aspects of life it takes on the
noisy. The second section shows how the drums are so loud they can be heard
through large cities, “Over the traffic of cities- over the rumble of wheels
in the streets;” this shows how the war has evolved to something that not only
disrupts churches and schools but something that disrupts whole cities. The
speaker then uses good images of jobs in the big city to further his notion that
that war is taking over all aspects of the common people’s lives. “Would the
talkers be talking? Would a singer attempt to sing? / Would the lawyer rise in
court to state his case before the judge?” Whitman uses a sense of sarcasm in
these two lines. He is stating would these people continue on with their lives
even though they have this terrible feeling disrupting their day. The speaker
finishes off the second section with the drums and bugles getting louder and
heavier, “then rattle quicker, heavier drums-you bugles wilder blow.” In the
third section, Whitman gets into the feelings of the drums and the drive behind
the war. The next few lines indicate: “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,” Whitman uses a sense of sarcasm in these four lines.
Make no “parley” or truces and keep fighting even if you are ruining
everyday life. Whitman is trying to express the fact that the war has no desire
to stop and will keep on going until it has to. Who cares about the “timid”
or the weak, who cares if people are in “prayer” to stop the war; the war
will keep going and people will have to keep their lives on hold. Whitman uses
an “old” man and a “young” man to show that the war takes on all kinds
of people and affects every age group. Whitman uses a great amount of sarcasm in
the line: “Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s
entreaties,” he tries to get the point across that the drums will stop for no
one and the war will keep going until its resolved. Whitman uses wonderful
imagery to show the cold terrors of war. This poem “Beat! Beat! Drums” is a
poem to show the horrible effects of war. War not only has negative effects on
the common people but negative effects on the future.
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