Study Guide

Beat! Beat! Drums! Forms of Address

By Walt Whitman

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Forms of Address

In this poem, there's a lot to notice not just about what our speaker saying, but how he's saying it and to whom (or to what!) he's saying it. Because our speaker is addressing some inanimate objects – those pesky drums and bugles – the way he speaks to them will be worth taking a look at.

  • Line 7: Our speaker personifies the drums and bugles here: he calls them "you" as if they were people. It quickly becomes clear that the whole poem is sort of organized as an address to these personified instruments. He speaks to them as if they're the ones who decided when and how loudly to play. And he even acts like they might take commands from him.
  • Lines 10-13: In these four lines, our speaker lists a bunch of rhetorical questions: questions that don't really require an answer. It makes sense, we guess, since he's talking to inanimate objects that can't very well respond. But because they are just rhetorical, they sound pretty accusatory, too, don't you think?
  • Lines 12-13: Using anaphora, those repeated words at the beginning of consecutive phrases, our speaker builds up the momentum for his questions (and the poem as a whole). We can tell he's coming to something pretty big.
  • Lines 17-18: Here it is again: our speaker is using anaphora to link his phrases together and build up the energy and excitement for the commands he's giving.
  • Line 21: Notice how these last words to the drums and bugles are no longer an imperative. Maybe the speaker has realized that the instruments – and the war – are unable to be controlled. What effect do you think this grammatical change has on the poem?

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