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Beat! Beat! Drums!

Beat! Beat! Drums!

by Walt Whitman

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 8-9

Beat! beat! drums! Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;

  • We've heard this first line before… ah, yes. It's the first line of the first stanza, too.
  • Now that we see it again, we're reminded how odd it is that our speaker is talking directly to the instruments. How come he's not talking to the people playing them? The drums and bugles almost seem to have a life of their own.
  • It really gives the music that impersonal, detached sense that we were just talking about.
  • If we could see the people playing them, we might imagine they could be convinced to stop playing. But the people are out of the picture here. It's just the instruments and their wild, disruptive music.
  • This time, our speaker urges the music to play over the sounds and traffic of cities.
  • By putting the music over "cities"— not just one city— we really get a sense of the scope of this war. This is going on all across the country, not just in one specific place. And if you think about it, we haven't gotten any indication of a setting yet either: this is Anywhere, USA.

Line 10

Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? No sleepers must sleep in those beds,

  • This line is pretty straightforward: our speaker asks if the beds are made in the houses. No one should be allowed to sleep in those beds, he says.
  • Like with the farmer and the groom, it seems that nobody will be allowed to get any rest.
  • Again we wonder if our speaker gives this command because he wants it to happen. And if he does, why does he want it?
  • He seems pretty adamant. After all, rather than saying "No sleepers should sleep in those beds, but if they do, no big deal," he uses that slightly-scarier word, "must."
  • Also, what's with the repetition of the word sleep? Why does he call the people "sleepers" instead of just, well, "people"? Shmoop thinks this might be an indication of what kind of people these are: people who are sleeping through (not paying attention to) some pretty important stuff. Like war.

Line 11

No bargainers' bargains by day—no brokers or speculators. Would they continue?

  • Our speaker continues explaining how things "must" be: bargainers must stop bargaining, brokers and speculators must quit brokering and speculating.
  • He then asks, "Would they continue?" That question seems pretty pointed. We mean, we get the impression that our speaker really thinks they shouldn't continue. It's pretty accusatory, right?
  • By this point, it's pretty clear that our speaker think no one ought to be able to carry on normally during a war. Let's see what we've got so far: no praying, no studying, no being a happy groom, no farming, no sleeping, no bargaining, no brokering, no speculating. So yeah, no nothing.
  • It's like when something scary happens, and we see someone acting like it's no big deal, and we say: How are you so calm?! Don't you know that Hamster Hammy just died?! We want them to be upset, because it's a big deal to us; we want them to acknowledge it.

Lines 12-13

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?

  • Our speaker keeps up the pointed, rhetorical questions, asking if talkers, singers, and lawyers would all continue at their normal tasks in the face of the war.
  • Asking rhetorical questions like this, our speaker almost seems to be expressing a kind of outrage. Like he expects that they would all go on with their lives and how could they?
  • Who would dare go on living life normally when a war is ripping the country apart?
  • These questions are really just elaborations on the question from Line 11: "Would they continue?" The repetition (and in this case, anaphora, since the word is repeated at the beginning of consecutive lines) just drives the point home.
  • Now we can add the following to our list: no talking, no singing, no doing your job. Our options are starting to seem pretty limited here.

Line 14

Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—and bugles wilder blow.

  • Our speaker speaks to the drums and bugles, telling them that if people do try to keep on with their daily activities (the speculating, singing, lawyering, etc.) then the instruments must play still faster and louder.
  • We can't say that we get any sense of our speaker's politics, or whether he thinks there should be a war. But he makes it pretty clear that he wants everyone to stop what they're doing and give the band (and so the war) their full attention.
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