Study Guide

Beat! Beat! Drums! Warfare

By Walt Whitman

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Even though our speaker never actually mentions it, "Beat! Beat! Drums!" is a poem about the American Civil War. Sure, we don't see images of battlefields and flying bullets, but what do get are the effects of war away from the battlefield: the disruptions it causes, the way it leaves no one unaffected. In this poem, the music of the drums and bugles carries the word of war to the American people. This is a war that can't be explained, can't be stopped, and can't be controlled: but at the very least, our speaker says, we can pay it some attention.

Questions About Warfare

  1. This is a poem about war, right? So why doesn't our speaker ever use the word "war" or even explicitly state that there's a war going on?
  2. Is the marching band real? Are there armed men marching with band and literally busting down doors? How much of this is literal and how much is just some fancy metaphor?
  3. Do we have any clues as to which side of the war this town is on? Are these northerners or southerners? Would it matter?
  4. Does our speaker have an opinion on the war or does he remain pretty objective?

Chew on This

Our speaker isn't concerned with either promoting or criticizing the war: he just wants to make sure everyone understands what a big deal it is.

By describing the way that the music leaves no one in peace or happiness, our speaker is clearly criticizing the war as a negative force. This guy is clearly anti-war.

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