Study Guide

Beat! Beat! Drums! Death

By Walt Whitman

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Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through the doors—burst like a force of armed men, (1-2)

The image of a force of armed men bursting through windows and door: well, we don't need to tell you that it's pretty frightening. If a group of armed men burst into our house, you can be sure we'd be suddenly very aware of our mortality. These lines let us know right away that the threat of violence and death is carried within the sound of the drums and bugles (a sound which we hear all throughout the poem).

Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer, (17)

Why are people timid in the face of these drums and bugles? Why are people weeping and praying? Well, we imagine that these folk are afraid of death, praying that they and their loved ones won't die.

Also, don't forget: weeping and praying also occur <em>after </em>people die. Could that be what's going on here? What do you think?

Make the very trestles shake under the dead, where they lie in their shrouds awaiting the hearses. (20)

This last line gives us a glimpse of what war looks like away from the battlefield. Men and boys are taken by recruiters, and then many return as "the dead." Of course, the poem doesn't tell us that these dead are from the war, but by mentioning them like this (right after the line that yells "Recruit! recruit!"), we find it hard not to make the connection.

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