Walt Whitman Publishes "Beat! Beat! Drums!" During The Civil War
As the American Civil War was beginning, Whitman published his poem "Beat!
Beat! Drums!" as a patriotic rally call for the North. Whitman's brother George had joined the Union army and began sending Whitman several vividly detailed letters of the battle front. On December 16, 1862, a listing of fallen and wounded soldiers in the New York Tribune included "First Lieutenant G. W. Whitmore", which Whitman worried was a reference to his brother George. He made his way south immediately to find him, though his wallet was stolen on the way. "Walking all day and night, unable to ride, trying to get information, trying to get access to big people", Whitman later wrote, he eventually found George alive, with only a superficial wound on his cheek. Whitman, profoundly affected by seeing the wounded soldiers and the heaps of their amputated limbs, left for Washington on December 28, 1862 with the intention of never returning to New York.
1 Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
2 Through the windows -- through doors -- burst like a ruthless force,
3 Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
4 Into the school where the scholar is studying;
5 Leave not the bridegroom quiet -- no happiness must he have now with his bride,
6 Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
7 So fierce you whirr and pound you drums -- so shrill you bugles blow.
8 Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
9 Over the traffic of cities -- over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
10 Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
11 No bargainers' bargains by day -- no brokers or speculators -- would they continue?
12 Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
13 Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
14 Then rattle quicker, heavier drums -- you bugles wilder blow.
15 Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
16 Make no parley -- stop for no expostulation,
17 Mind not the timid -- mind not the weeper or prayer,
18 Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
19 Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's entreaties,
20 Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
21 So strong you thump O terrible drums -- so loud you bugles blow.