“Beat! Beat! Drums!” by Walt Whitman.
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The Civil War had a major impact on the people of America through the years of 1861 to 1865. Walt Whitman, a poet and Northerner of this time, wanted to capture the people’s reactions of the war after finding out it was not going to end as quickly as they had anticipated. Whitman illustrated how the people, especially Northerners, changed throughout this conflict; he achieved this by using countless images in his poem, “Beat! Beat! Drums!” The main focus of the piece was imagery, which intensified the reader’s perceptions and reinforced their emotions of the war. By emphasizing the significance of images, Walt Whitman went from being a public poet to breaking away from the traditional poetic form and introducing new kinds of poetry to America. Whitman’s dedicated spirit helped him expand his sense of imagery through his various works, since he was never able to attend college. The imagery in Whitman’s poem that portrayed the Civil War could be evaluated by concentrating on the frequency and types of images, frames of reference and suitability of the imagery, and the meaning and effect of the images.
Walt Whitman used an extensive amount of images throughout his poem that primarily appealed to the senses of sight and sound. There was imagery all throughout the poem to reinforce the meaning of the war and immense influence this struggle had on the lives of the people. One significant sight image was “the solemn church” (Whitman. 3). This line helped establish the serious tone of the work. Whitman chose another picture of the town to illustrate how the clatter of the war spread through the hustle and bustle of everyday activity: “Over the traffic of cities–over the rumble of wheels in the streets;” (9). It further supported Walt Whitman’s belief that these war sounds interrupted the harmony of people’s lives. Whitman used the sounds of war as an audible image to demonstrate its effects on the common people. Right at the start, he acknowledged the drums and bugles when he wrote, “Beat! beat! drums!–blow! bugles! blow!” which emphasized the significance of them. (1) Walt Whitman, nonetheless, brought in the sounds of war at the beginning and end of every section to ensure the reader had a feeling that the drums were never ending.
Whitman’s poem consisted of several kinds of images that carried out the many feelings about this time of conflict. The two dissimilar categories that partially made up Whitman’s poem were power and peace. The sounds of the drums and bugles traveled “through the windows-through doors-burst like a ruthless force,” (2) as if they were shattering through the homes of the common people. In the beginning Whitman used imagery to show how the intensity of the drums and bugles broke up everyday life. Another image of power was, “So strong you thump O terrible drums–so loud you bugles blow.” (21) This line illustrated how the sounds of war grew more thunderous as the poem went on. An additional type of imagery was peace. By using the serene image of a “school” (3) being disrupted, Whitman was able to express the idea that during a time of war no education was able to go on. In the tranquil line, “Nor the peaceful farmer any peace,” (6) Whitman used the image of a farmer to explain the idea that no food would be grown because of war that was occurring. The contradictory types of images in the poem helped prove the different aspects of the war and Walt Whitman’s piece.
Underlying themes and messages shown through the images played a major role in this piece and also contributed to the numerous outlooks in the work. Whitman used imagery of upper-class jobs in the big city to further his notion that war was taking over all aspects of the common people’s lives: “Would the lawyer rise in court to state his case before the judge?” (13). He was stating whether or not these people could continue on with their lives even though they had this terrible feeling disrupting their day. Again Whitman was able to create an image of how war affected peoples’ lives both directly and indirectly when he said, “Leave not the bridegroom quiet–no happiness must he have with his bride,” (5). Whitman used the image of a “bridegroom” leaving his wife to show how young men during this time were called off to duty in order to defend their side. People’s everyday work life was also influenced by this war only to create problems for the future. He used wonderful images to further explain how the war affected people’s occupations: “No bargainers by day–no brokers or speculators–would they continue?” (11). Whitman expressed how even the rich persons of the community could not carry on with their jobs. One of Whitman’s essential meanings was that because of the war an economic depression might happen in the future due to the struggles that went on in the present.
Whitman’s images were all drawn from the war of that time, the Civil War. In particular, the repetition of the lines about the beating of the drums and the blowing of the bugles emphasized the change the war brought about on the people. Furthermore, it served as an inspiration Whitman tried to provide for the soldiers and commoners. These images represented power, hope, and motivation. While other authors of his time were seeking tradition through their poetry, Walt Whitman broke away from that and expressed himself in poetic voices. He did this by mainly focusing on imagery and used various images to further explain his feelings toward the war. Walt Whitman invited readers to explore values brought out by the images, and by doing this, made the feel for the people and the war more realistic.