Monday, October 4, 2010

Walt Whitman

Sorry for the delay in posting today's picture. I had a white fly infestation out in the Bean Barn, so had to run to town to get some neem oil to try and kill it back before the cucumbers were ruined.

Today's picture is of Walt Whitman. The picture was taken in 1879. He is sporting his trademark beard in the picture. Whitman was a poet, and one of the poems he is remembered for is "Beat! Beat! Drums!". To be honest with you, I don't get it.


BEAT ! beat ! drums!—Blow ! bugles ! blow !
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a force of armed men,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation; Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace plowing his field or gathering his grain ;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.
Beat ! beat ! drums ! Blow ! bugles ! blow !
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers' bargains by day—no brokers or speculators. Would they continue ?
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?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums-and bugles wilder blow.
Beat ! beat! drums ! Blow ! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation;
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer; Mind not the old man beseeching the young man;
Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's entreaties. Recruit! recruit!
Make the very trestles shake under the dead, where they lie in their shrouds awaiting the hearses.
So strong you thump, O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow. 


  1. That poem was written just as the American Civil War was beginning. If you read it with that fact in mind, it makes a great deal of sense. Nothing will ever be normal again - no happy weddings, no going shopping, no sleeping peacefully.

  2. Well, as I read it I figured it had to do with the Civil War, but
    I really still don't get it either.

  3. Can it be PJM, that you simply don't relate to poetry? Some people just don't. My daughter has a Masters in Library Science,works in a University Library, yet doesn't "get" poetry either.Nor does she ever read fiction. She maintains that this is due to her "no nonsense" personality.Says she just wants the facts, not a bunch of flowery description.
    I, on the other hand, love reading poetry and literary classics--even modern fiction. This week on OPOD is going to be a great one for me. Keep those poets and their works coming!

  4. I almost forgot! As we know, Whitman had some very unusual ideas for his time. He would have fit right in with the '60s. (1960s that is--Hippies, Flower Power and Stop the War.) I've always thought of this poem as an early anti-war anthem. He's saying that war is a force that sweeps everything along in its path with no regard for everyday hopes or desires.

  5. Not knowing the first thing about Whitman, I second Lady Kildew's interpretation. It seems to me to be almost a sarcastic commentary on the call to war--"Oh, go ahead, everybody march off to the great Call of Duty, never mind these people just trying to get on with the important things in life."

    Which, to a poet would be more along the lines of a child's question, a honeymoon, or maybe a gentleman farmer finally getting his tractor. ;)

  6. Walt Whitman is another of my favorite poets. The poem “Beat the Drums” was a rally for the North during the Civil War. “Leaves of Grass” is my favorite collection.

    Like his contemporary, Oscar Wilde, Whitman was either homosexual or bisexual but never admitted to it publicly(although it wouldn’t matter today).

  7. I would suggest that Neil Young's "Flags of Freedom" is very similar to Walt Whitman's poem. When I first heard "Flags of Freedom", my first thought was, "What in the world is Neil Young doing writing a patriotic song?" Then I listened again and read the lyrics.

    Even as a liberal arts major (History), I have found poetry and literature to be difficult when you're looking for deep inner meaning. I prefer my music and my reading to take me to another place and time, not make me want to punch the author for being too deep for mortal humans.

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  9. I read the poem as being in earnest, a pro-Union rallying cry; not ironic, not antiwar.
    (Whitman's enthusiasm was later tempered by acting as a nurse in a field hospital, and perhaps by the length of the war.)
    The repetition of words is an echo of the drumbeat and of marching.
    The cataloguing was Whitman's method of being all-inclusive, all-embracing, which was a defining characteristic of his ethos.
    Also, I think there's nothing to "get"--it's pretty straightforward ... and really very far from being one of his better poems!

  10. Whitman was an amazing man. Please read his writings on his hospital nursing service in Washington DC during the Civil War. Well heck. Read all his work.

    In the "Victory at Sea" tv series about WW2 (now on cd), the last episode was about the men and ships returning from Europe and the Pacific to home. There is a very wonderful reading of the second stanza of Whitman's poem "Song for All Seas, All Ships", which I reproduce below. It was so appropriate in Whitman's time, and 65 years ago, and now.

    Flaunt out O sea your separate flags of nations!
    Flaunt out visible as ever the various ship-signals!
    But do you reserve especially for yourself and for the soul of man
    one flag above all the rest,
    A spiritual woven signal for all nations, emblem of man elate above death,
    Token of all brave captains and all intrepid sailors and mates,
    And all that went down doing their duty,
    Reminiscent of them, twined from all intrepid captains young or old,
    A pennant universal, subtly waving all time, o'er all brave sailors,
    All seas, all ships.

  11. PJM, perhaps you need to HEAR the poems read rather than just read them. That makes all the difference in the world to me.

    As I mentioned above, the Whitman poem read in "Victory at Sea" combined with the visuals and the memories of the rest of the tv series I had seen up to that point -- well hearing that poem at that point nearly brought me to my knees in amazement. It was the perfect thing to say, to summarize the event of millions of young men coming home after WW2.

    I was lucky to have a couple of good teachers in high school and college who could read poetry well. I also quickly learned that the ONLY way to enjoy Shakespeare is to HEAR that wonderful language.

    Noodle around on the web. There are lots of poetry recordings out there.

    Many thanks once again for your interesting website.

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  13. I don't see the poem as either pro or anti war. I see it as simply descriptive. It seems to me to describe the effects of the war fever that takes hold of the populace as war becomes inevitable. I can imagine the same sort of poem being written about a hurricane or a forest fire.

  14. I liked this one. I enjoy Whitman and Wilde, and I would like to point out that Whitman was also a homosexual. As a great fan of Abe Lincoln, this makes him a good candidate for the first gay republican.

    Anyway, to the poem. It's definitely about war. The first thing I was reminded of was that movie Shenandoah with Jimmy Stewart. He's just a man with his family and farm trying to make a living, but the drums and bugles of war are getting louder. Even as a quaker, he can't ignore them.


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